Crimewatch: Austin Community Court assists with homeless camp cl - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Crimewatch: Austin Community Court assists with homeless camp cleanup

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As Austin police ramp up efforts to rid Waller Creek of homeless camps before the tunnel project is finished next year. The city is turning to its community court to help with the actual clean up.

Austin's Community Court was the first in the state and eighth in the nation. Its goal is use the same offenders who committed the crimes to take care of the mess.

There's enough trash and debris in and around Waller Creek for crews to pick up on a regular basis including a couch cushion, complete with ants.

"A lot of bottles, needles, uh paper, stuff like that. It really runs the garment, just about everything," said Community Court Crew Leader Andy Schuessler. "That's probably some of the stranger stuff we found, pornography."

We're not showing you who the crew members are because they may have been the ones who made the mess in the first place. The majority of these folks are homeless. Crew members are working off community service hours after violating some sort of class C misdemeanor in the downtown area.

"Public intoxication, urinating in public, minors in possession, possession of drug paraphernalia," Community Court Coordinator Peter Valdez said.

Last week FOX 7 followed Austin police as they showed us homeless camp after homeless camp and the mess that comes with each. Not to mention the bio hazardous waste near the waterway.

"Sometimes they are bio hazardous items like needles. Some people are defecating in the area so they are picking up a full spectrum of trash to include camping equipment, bedrolls," Valdez said.

The push to clean up Waller Creek comes as the tunnel project completion date is set for next year. Eventually, city planners hope for a San Antonio like river walk development here, attracting thousands of visitors.

Austin's Community Court started in 1999. The purpose is to address crimes in the downtown area through alternative approaches rather than just responding to the crimes. Thus, community service is for those who can't afford to pay the fines.

And while many offenders are homeless, some are UT students and tourists because the court's jurisdiction also includes west and east Austin.

"Some aren't that happy about being out here the whole time. Some take it in stride and are happy to be out here doing something for the community," Schuessler said.

The amount of trash collected varies.

"Easily a truck load, I'd guess at least 14,15 bags and we usually go from 15th Street all the way to Cesar Chavez all the way to the opening of Waller Creek," Schuessler said.

As Austin police try to change behavior along Waller Creek, community court crews are close behind.

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