APD, Community Court team up to assist the homeless - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

APD, Community Court team up to assist the homeless

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Austin police and the downtown community court are working together to stop public nuisance crime. The top offenders are the homeless. The ultimate goal is to get them permanent housing.

Austin police officers assigned to the downtown beat get to know the homeless by name. Officers also learn the homeless peoples' stories and in some cases, their demons.

Now instead of aimlessly ticketing the homeless for breaking city ordinances, officers have a way to help them from repeating the behavior.

"It certainly is very gratifying when you see someone get to a point that they never thought they could achieve," said Josh Paul, outreach case manager.

Community court, the entity that handles all class C misdemeanor offenses, has hired four case managers. The salaries for two case workers are covered by federal grant money, funding for the other two was approved in last year's city budget.

Case managers accompany downtown officers in search of the city's top public nuisance crime offenders. There are currently 305 people on the top offender list. Each person on the list must have committed 25 or more class C offenses since 1999.

Once officers guide case managers to an offender's whereabouts, case managers establish a dialogue, and find out what barriers are keeping the offender from getting off the streets. That may be drug treatment or something as simple as needing a driver's license. More grant money is available to pay for those services.

"The funding is there for people who really want to get help, want to get clean, want to get off the streets," said Paul.

APD Officer Brian Spain was able to get help for a man who he'd formed a close bond with.

"He was about 90 pounds," Spain said. "When we first dealt with him he was in a walker. He couldn't get around."

Thanks to the case workers, the man is now in a seven month drug rehabilitation program.

"It's one less person we have to worry about and we can focus on other people who need the same help," Spain said.

Manhattan, New York has a very similar program. It's a first for Austin.

As of now, the city has $112,000 to be split between the next two years. Case managers expect to run out of money for this year by the end of next month. At that point, they will make calls to providers to see if any free help is available.

The program is also being supported by the city's Health and Human Services Department and Front Steps.

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