New Rules for Homeless People with Disabilities

May 06, 2011
Tagged with: New Rules for Homeless People with Disabilities

A new in Austin, Texas now allows homeless individuals with physical or mental disabilities to sit or lie down on sidewalks for up to 30 minutes. Before, this 6-year-old ordinance aimed at keeping the homeless from lingering in front of downtown shops, homes and bars now makes exceptions for people with disabilities.

This new rule helps the homeless with disabilities, but others are worried about increase begging, public drunkenness and safety problems. “We don’t want to change this to interfere with the enforceability of the law,” said Charlie Betts, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance. “We’ll be watching to see how this works.”

The ordinance was first introduced back in 2005, when downtown businesses and residents complained that homeless people routinely blocked sidewalks, panhandled aggressively and behaved disruptively. With some exceptions, such as sitting in line for concerts or watching a parade, etc., the ordinance does apply to everyone. However, the majority of the tickets are given to the homeless. Also, the ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor and individuals can be fined up to $500. In 2009, 96 percent of the 2,729 tickets issued went to homeless people, he said. Advocates came up with that number by looking at the addresses listed on the tickets, such as the Salvation Army or local churches.

In the past, the homeless were being ticketed simply for sitting down in line while waiting for service at a downtown health clinic. The homeless advocates claimed that this was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because some of the people being ticketed had disabilities and the city needed to make reasonable accommodations for them. A House the Homeless survey of 501 people last year showed that 48 percent of respondents said they were disabled, said Richard Troxell, founder of House the Homeless.

After months of discussion, the Austin City Council voted in March to allow exemptions to the law. Under the new rules, people with medical problems — such as diabetes, mental illness, heart problems, cerebral palsy, etc. — can sit or lie down for up to 30 minutes. If someone receives a ticket, they must to prove to the court that they have a disability and were experiencing a medical problem that forced them to rest at that moment.

The goal of the new rule is about getting people the assistance they need. The Downtown Austin Community Court wants to connect homeless people to services they need, such as mental health care or substance abuse treatment.

Author: Jenny Carlton