At 17 years old, Regina Tardy fled her abusive boyfriend, intending to flee to relatives in Lubbock, according to the Austin Chronicle. After getting stuck in Austin and being taken to a homeless shelter by police, she had nowhere to turn but the streets. Four years later and Tardy is still homeless and deals with Austin’s ineffectual policies regarding the homeless on a daily basis.
Austin is home to more than 2,300 homeless people, 28 percent of which are under age 18. Laura Poskochil, youth shelter director at the Austin shelter and rehabilitative program LifeWorks, sees many of these youths on a regular basis. She approximates that around 20-30 percent of them have been through the foster care system or phased out of the foster care system and many have faced abuse in their lives. Homeless youth are especially difficult to place, she explained, because she said they may not feel comfortable in regular homeless shelters.
“Homeless youth may not feel comfortable at a homeless shelter because [they are] for folks who are trying to figure out their identity and gain some measure of control over their lives,” Poskochil said.
Austin deals with its homeless problem though a “No Sit/No Lie” policy, which prohibits one from sitting on the street for more than 30 minutes at a time in West Campus, downtown and several other areas. Police are required to issue a warning, then issue fines, which can be up to $500. When these fines are not paid, one can face jail time.
Poskochil said homeless youth often end up in a vicious cycle of not being able to find a job because their application has a “red flag” due to the No Sit/No Lie policy’s impacts.
While the proportion of homeless youth in Austin is equal to that of the nation’s, it is still a problem that needs to be addressed. Instead of perpetuating the problem and giving fines to those who cannot pay them, more state supported programs should be added to aid homeless youth. The government must amend the “No Sit/No Lie” policy to accommodate for those stuck in a dangerous and vicious cycle of poverty.
As opposed to using the city’s money to have greater police presence in areas where there is a high homeless population, rehabilitation programs are a more effective use of the city’s money. Instead of attempting to eradicate the homeless issue by fining them until they begin to disappear, programs should be created that actually aid these people like we would hope to be treated.
Kashar is an English freshman from Scarsdale, New York. Follow Kashar on Twitter @leahkashar.