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Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - Con­tact Philip Jankowski at 512-445-3702.

al­lowed of­fi­cers to de­tain, cite and pos­si­bly ar­rest for tres­pass­ing any per­son liv­ing un­der the bridge.

The agree­ment would have given Austin po­lice ju­ris­dic­tion at the over­pass, which is owned by the state. The goal was to give po­lice au­thor­ity to ques­tion peo­ple liv­ing there so they could con­nect home­less peo­ple to so­cial ser­vices be­cause they would be legally de­tained for tres­pass­ing.

But it be­came clear when the pro­gram first came be­fore the Austin City Coun­cil dur­ing a late-night meet­ing in De­cem­ber that po­lice would have the right to make an ar­rest.

Af­ter some coun­cil mem­bers raised ques­tions, the agree­ment’s full ap­proval was put off un­til Fe­bru­ary. But two months later, the agree­ment still has not been brought to the coun­cil. Last week, Kitchen of­fered no timetable as to when it would ever come be­fore the coun­cil.

“It seems like it is dead in the wa­ter,” said Mark Hil­be­link, head pas­tor of Sun­rise Com­mu­nity Church, which is on Man­chaca Road just south of Ben White Boule­vard.

Ev­ery day, peo­ple can be found un­der the over­pass. In some spots, it is ob­vi­ous that the stretch of dirt- and rock-cov­ered con­crete un­der the high­way is not just a spot for day­time pan­han­dling and loi­ter­ing. Be­drolls, blan­kets and chairs show in­di­ca­tions that many have made the area a home.

Joan Owens, a for­mer neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent in the South­wood area that abuts the over­pass, said she has seen the num­ber of home­less peo­ple un­der the bridge grow in re­cent months — and heard more sto­ries of crimes.

But po­lice don’t have ev­i­dence of any cor­re­la­tion between a per­ceived in­crease in home­less peo­ple there and an in­crease in crime. Austin po­lice at­tribute spikes in par­tic­u­lar crimes such as auto theft to joyrid­ing ju­ve­niles steal­ing cars with the keys left in­side.

Po­lice Cmdr. Ja­son Duster­hoft said the crimes re­lated to home­less­ness in the area are typ­i­cally “nui­sance crimes” such as pub­lic uri­na­tion and peo­ple in the road­way.

Noth­ing pre­vents Austin po­lice from ap­proach­ing and ar­rest­ing home­less peo­ple if they are seen com­mit­ting a crime. Po­lice also have said they would never hes­i­tate to in­ter­vene if they ob­served or re­ceived a re­port of an on­go­ing vi­o­lent crime.

But al­low­ing of­fi­cers to make ar­rests or write tick­ets en masse to peo­ple found liv­ing un­der the over­pass runs counter to a Novem­ber city au­dit that found that crim­i­nal­iz­ing home­less peo­ple does noth­ing to im­prove their sit­u­a­tion.

The city, at the City Coun­cil’s be­hest, also is look­ing into un­do­ing or­di­nances that the au­dit crit­i­cized.

“You can’t ar­rest your­self out of the prob­lem,” Duster­hoft told the States­man.

In the mean­time, Kitchen is pur­su­ing other ideas to ad­dress home­less­ness in the area, such as in­creas­ing the light­ing un­der the over­pass.

To Owens, the South­wood res­i­dent, Kitchen’s idea seemed like a good one. Now that it is on the back burner, she won­ders what will be done.

“I re­ally don’t know who needs to take care of it, but some­thing needs to be done,” she said. “I just don’t know. It just seems like we aren’t mak­ing any head­way.”

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