North Texas Daily

Homeless camping ban brings up new concerns as winter approaches

Homeless camping ban brings up new concerns as winter approaches

Homeless camping ban brings up new concerns as winter approaches
November 05
12:00 2021

As winter approaches, nonprofits serving the homeless population and other city affiliates must act quicker to provide resources in response to the recent homeless encampment ban, according to Denton officials.

The law, House Bill 1925, prohibits encampments on public ground and took effect Sept. 1. The bill outlawed homeless individuals residing on public property and includes staying in tents, blankets or any other form of temporary shelter.  The law defines certain actions as evidence of sustained living accommodations conducted in a public place, including cooking, sleeping, making a fire and storing personal belongings. Charges are filed as a Class C misdemeanor and can lead to a fine of up to $500.

“We’ve looked at [the bill] closely,” said Ryan Adams, director of customer service and public affairs for the city of Denton. “It may be a very good purpose but could have unintended consequences.”

Local governments cannot adopt a policy that discourages the enforcement of a public camping ban, according to the bill. However, the law does not prohibit “a policy that encourages diversion or a provision of services in lieu of citation or arrest.” Therefore, homeless outreach programs are able to preserve many strategies they used before the bill’s enactment.

Since the bill’s passage, Denton officials said these programs must act faster to allow constituents to get the help they need.

Dani Shaw, director of community services for Denton, said street outreach teams must first map the location before they can assist any homeless individuals in the area. Then, the nonprofit teams provide resources on location, monitor public safety of constituents and try to address resident concerns.

“It’s frustrating that this piece of legislation has a name on it, and it affects other cities too,” Shaw said.

Work in homeless outreach has not been impacted at United Way Denton, said Marci Pritts, director of marketing and communications. The nonprofit continues to work with partners across the community to make homelessness obsolete in Denton County.

458 individuals are currently homeless in Denton County as of September, according to the UWD Homeless Data Dashboard. Of those constituents, 156 experience chronic homelessness, which means those impacted are without a household continuously for one year or more.

Pete Davis, who has been experiencing homelessness for nearly 20 years, said he has seen a growth in the number of resources around Denton County, including several shelters.

“The Denton community is doing a whole lot better than the federal government,” Davis said. “I see a whole lot more understanding.”

Sundays are “a little rough,” said Davis, as many homeless centers close for the day. Several nonprofits that offer temporary housing have limited hours, so people who stay in shelters must relocate for the night. At night, Davis sleeps in parks and said he gets so cold that he wakes up with a runny nose each morning.

As temperatures drop, nonprofit partners of Denton County plan to ramp up street outreach and provide emergency shelter beds to people during cold weather. Partners such as the Denton Hunger Coalition and Our Daily Bread will open with extended hours so homeless individuals can have a place to stay.

City officials are in the process of investing in a 24/7 homeless shelter, hoping to provide residents with more safety. Nonprofits will continue to serve the Denton community as city-ran resources expand.

“This bill is not really a change on how we treat people,” Adams said.  “People are not taking a hard-line view because they recognize the work that’s being done to address these problems in creative ways.”

Featured Image: A mattress and shopping cart sit behind a row of buildings in Denton on Oct. 31, 2021. Photo by John Anderson

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McKensi Bryce

McKensi Bryce

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