Is Dallas Ready to Comply with New Homeless Camping Law?

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Mayor Pro Tem Chad West’s office says the city is in compliance with a new state law that bans unauthorized homeless encampments. The law took effect September 1 and outlines the requirements for a homeless encampment to be permitted, and the consequences for violating or not enforcing the ban.

House Bill 1925, which became state law on September 1, states it’s an “offense” if someone “intentionally or knowingly” camps on public property without permission. “Intent” may be determined if the person made a fire, cooked, stored personal items “for an extended period,” slept, dug, or other actions linked with “sustaining a living accommodation.”

Officials may only permit camping if it’s for sheltering the homeless, for emergency shelter, if allowed under a “beach access plan,” or for recreation. The first three must be in line with state law. Violating HB 1925 is a Class C Misdemeanor, and convictions have a maximum of $500 in fines but no jail time. The attorney general may take action against local governments that defy the law, and if it is determined in court said local officials “intentionally violated” it, they will be blocked from state grant funding.

The Dallas Express sent inquiries to the entire Dallas City Council, the office of Mayor Eric Johnson, and City Manager T.C. Broadnax. They were asked how the city is responding to this new law, if their policies are being adjusted, and if the city will be 100 percent compliant on September 1.

Only Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Chad West provided responses before publication.

“The City of Dallas does not allow camping without an approved permit,” Ashley Long, assistant to West, stated. “So long as that remains in place, the State law is not triggered.”

“The City does not have any sanctioned homeless encampments and is working to resolve existing encampments through sustainable and humane means via the Dallas R.E.A.L. Time Rapid Rehousing Initiative,” Long continued. “We are also still in the middle of a pandemic and the current CDC guidelines mandate that encampments not posing an immediate health or safety issue remain as is to reduce the potential for the spread of COVID until further notice.”

The Dallas Express reported on encampments under the I-345 highway, in Highland Park, and the well-known Camp Rhonda east of downtown. 

“Per the above points, we are already in compliance as no sanctioned encampments exist,” Long said.

West discussed the Rapid Rehousing Initiative. “The City’s REAL Time Rapid Rehousing Initiative is based on the premise of getting people off the streets and into housing with supportive services to help them get back on their feet and back into society,” he told The Dallas Express. “It is based on models that have worked throughout the country, and has great potential, mainly because the city has been able to leverage federal and private monies along with Dallas’ own funding.”

HB 1925 In-Depth

Local authorities can’t give permission for homeless encampments unless it’s under an approved plan that depicts the availability of the following for “new campers” in the proposed area: health care, indigent services, “reasonably affordable public transportation,” and “local law enforcement resources.” Applicants also have to show what they’ve done to work with “local mental health” authorities to help the homeless in the proposed area.

Public parks can’t be used for homeless encampments, and local officials cannot stop enforcement of “public camping” bans, though services and “diversion” can be done instead of arresting or citing a homeless individual.

HB 1925 requires, before or when issuing a citation, law enforcement “make a reasonable effort” to inform a homeless person of other locations where they “may lawfully camp.” Additionally, “if reasonable and appropriate,” the officer may contact an “appropriate” local authority in the area or non-profit and ask they give the homeless individual “services” to lessen the chances of him or her repeating the offense, and knowledge regarding preventing “human trafficking.” These requirements are exempt if the officer finds there is “an imminent threat” to any person’s well-being.

All personal property not seized as “contraband” under other state laws may be reclaimed by their owner when they leave or may be stored by the officer if the homeless person is taken into custody. Once the individual is released, he or she will receive their property at no cost for storage.

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