AUSTIN (KXAN) — Violent crime outside Austin Police Headquarters in downtown is shedding light on the extent of the homelessness problem in city limits.
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Darryl Alexander Wesley, 29, who is wanted for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, a first degree felony. According to court documents, Wesley attacked another man on March 16 at a homeless camp under the Eighth Street bridge, in the 700 block of East 8th Street, just down the street from APD Headquarters.
Police said the victim had been sleeping in a tent less than a block from the police station, when he woke up to find someone had stolen some of his property.
“There was a disturbance with someone he knew and when he exited the tent, there was a subject outside the tent who was armed with a pistol,” said Sgt. T.J. Vineyard, who works in the robbery division at the Austin Police Department. “The subject began striking him in the head and demanding property from him.”
APD says Wesley has previously been charged with aggravated robbery. At last report, his location is unknown.
The fact that Wesley, the victim, and other witnesses were sleeping in a tent in the area is against city ordinance.
“They can’t sleep outdoors. They can’t sit or lie in a right of way. They can’t set up a tent and bedding and sleep there. We can cite them upon view,” explained Lt. James Nisula, who works in the downtown area command at APD.
In fact, the city’s no-sit/no-lie ordinance states “sitting or lying down on public sidewalks or sleeping outdoors in the downtown Austin community court area [is] prohibited.”
Lt. Nisula is one of two officers on the department’s Homeless Outreach Street Team, or HOST. Lt. Nisula says APD policy requires officers give violators 30 minutes from the time they issue them a warning for violating the ordinance before taking enforcement action. This policy, he says, helps to allow disabled violators the time to move.
However, he says, it’s not always possible.
“We’re quite busy downtown and an officer doesn’t have 30 minutes to stand around and see if they leave,” said Lt. Nisula. “A lot of times they get a higher priority call come up and they have to break away from that and go to the higher priority calls.”
Lt. Nisula says the problem extends from workload to a lack of available resources. “When we do tell somebody they can’t sit or lay here, we don’t have a place to tell them where to go. The ARCH is full. The Salvation Army is full. So, we’re basically saying, ‘Well, you can’t stay here. I can’t tell you where to go, but it can’t be here,'” said Nisula. “They need help.”
House the Homeless, Inc. believes the current protocol — including the city’s no-sit/no-lie and tent ordinances — aren’t getting the job done.
“What we need to do is to get anyone who’s homeless off the streets. We need to end their situation,” said Richard Troxell, the president and co-founder of the organization. “Homeless people are targets of criminalization. If we could get people who are on the streets off the streets and into housing, then they wouldn’t be targets for criminalized acts.”
Troxell says the city is currently responding to the symptoms, not the core of the problem.
“We need to treat people like human beings. We need to have benches that get people off the street so that they’re not lying in the gutter,” said Troxell. “We are suffering an economic problem. We’ve got people who can work — who need a living wage, and people who can’t work — who need a living stipend.”
On April 1, The National Coalition for the Homeless is hosting a National day of Action for Housing. In Austin, homeless advocates plan to take their concerns to the streets of the city, voicing the need for better housing options to combat the homeless problem in the city.