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City of Taylor bans camping in public places, adopts policy for trespass warnings on city property

Straps hold down a tarp covering a tent in an encampment of unhoused people as the sun sets
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

The Taylor City Council approved an ordinance Thursday night that regulates camping in public areas and establishes a policy for issuing trespass warnings on city property.

The vote was 4-1, with District 2 Council Member Mitchell Drummond voting against.

City officials said the purpose of the ordinance is to "address a noticeable increase in encampments and loitering on public properties or within public facilities causing vandalism or destruction of public property."

The city said it didn't currently have a policy to address those issues.

Many Taylor residents, including Drummond, voiced concerns about how the policy will affect the city's homeless population.

"I have no issues with the criminal trespass warning. I think that's valid and we need that," he told the council Thursday. "And as far as camping, I don't like seeing homeless people camping on the side of the road and in our parks ... but they have to be somewhere."

"I mean, we've got an animal shelter down here. We spend $280,000 a year maintaining the animal shelter for homeless dogs and cats," Drummond said. "And yet we let our brothers and sisters live out in the street."

Resident Tammy Cheatum got emotional during the meeting.

"My mother was homeless for a lot of years," she told KUT. "So it was very frustrating for me ... very personal."

Cheatum told council members during public comments not to "pass the buck."

"I understand the take that it's not criminalizing it [homelessness], but it can end that way. We're not giving them much opportunities," she said, noting that there are no shelters dedicated solely to the homeless in Williamson County.

"So please take the time to research this. Reach out to the community. Let's work together on a solution," Cheatum said.

Taylor's police chief, Henry Fluck, acknowledged the ordinance will likely impact the city's homeless population, but he said the policy itself does not criminalize homelessness.

"The majority of the homeless in Taylor cause no problems at all. In fact, most of them are invisible," Fluck told council members. "But there are the chronic homeless, who live the life they choose.

He said that population does not want help and require a lot of police services.

"They often resort to harassment, intimidation, aggressive panhandling —things such as this — that can certainly disturb Taylor families and children in their enjoyment and use of the public parks," Fluck said.

The vote came on the same night the Williamson County Homeless Coalition conducted its 2023 Point-in-Time Homeless Count.

Trained volunteers count and survey individuals who are staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing and unsheltered locations. The count is an annual U.S. Department of Housing and Development-mandated survey of people experiencing homelessness on a single night, according to the Texas Homeless Network.

Last year, 24 homeless individuals were surveyed in the county, according to the coalition's 2022 report. Ten of those individuals were under 18.

"It's sort of a census of people that are living both in some kind of temporary shelter or living unsheltered," Coalition member Christel Erickson-Collins told KUT.

She said the count improves the organization's understanding of the needs and circumstances of Williamson County's homeless population.

Other cities in Williamson County with bans on public camping include Leander, Cedar Park, Georgetown and Round Rock.

Kailey Hunt is KUT's Williamson County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at khunt@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @KaileyEHunt.
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