The Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC), which this year celebrates its 20th-anniversary serving individuals experiencing homelessness in the Austin community, has facilitated dramatic reductions in repeat offenses among individuals experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations.
Efforts to serve these individuals with intensive and compassionate support, rather than fines and jail time, has led to improved quality of life for these individuals and reduced strain on public systems such as jails, hospitals, and emergency response.
An analysis of citations issued to a group of 59 individuals experiencing homelessness both before and after their engagement with DACC’s Intensive Case Management program reveals that the number of citations plummeted by 99% from 1,556 before participating in DACC services to just 7 afterward.*
DACC, based at 719 East 6th Street, adjudicates public order offenses in the Downtown, East Austin, and the West Campus areas, many of which are committed by defendants who are experiencing homelessness.
The offenses that may lead to citations include a range of behaviors such as public intoxication and disorderly conduct.
“The mission of DACC first and foremost is to serve individuals experiencing homelessness with a person-centered and comprehensive approach. We’ve worked to create a safe environment where individuals know they’ll be treated with respect and dignity, and have access to the help they need,” said Peter Valdez, Director of the Downtown Austin Community Court. “Our services have helped prevent our clients from continuing to cycle through the criminal justice system and other publicly funded systems. In the coming years, we will help many more individuals in their path to housing and achieving long-term stability, and continue to partner in the City’s efforts to effectively end homelessness.”
Rather than issuing fines that individuals are often unable to pay, leading to warrants and the threat of jail, DACC acts as a problem-solving and rehabilitative court that seeks to help individuals achieve long-term stability by utilizing a client-centered and housing-focused approach to Intensive Case Management (ICM) services.
Engagement in ICM also provides access to wraparound supports including an array of substance use treatments, mental health care, peer support, basic needs, permanent supportive housing, and transitional housing.
Individuals may enter ICM services through the judicial process, engagement with the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST), or by requesting services voluntarily.
The case management team, which is currently supporting 122 individuals, helped connect 166 individuals experiencing homelessness to housing between January 2016 and November 2019.
Robert Kingham, Downtown Austin Community Court Operations Manager, said, “Every morning we meet individuals who were cited for a quality of life offense in our jurisdiction. They are brought in to see the judge and the prosecutor, who adjudicate their offense in a way that’s non-punitive and doesn’t damage their potential to successfully move on in life. A lot of people we deal with are individuals experiencing homelessness, so we don’t want to create any additional barriers for them while they’re trying to address the challenges that they encounter while they’re on the street. We want to help them to successfully transition to housing.”
DACC’s Community Service Restitution (CSR) enables Austin and Travis County residents to meet court-mandated requirements through completion of projects such as graffiti abatement, homeless encampment cleanups, right of way maintenance, and other municipal purpose jobs.
This includes growing and maintaining small food crops at DACC’s Edgar Fincher III Program Garden, in East Austin, which are donated to social service and nonprofit agencies that provide meals to Austin’s homeless population.
DACC is part of the City’s multi-agency Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST), which works to identify individuals experiencing homelessness, learn what challenges they face, and connect them to services such as medical and behavioral healthcare, case management, and housing.
Additionally, DACC facilitates and administratively supports the Austin Homelessness Advisory Council (AHAC), a group of 15 individuals with lived experience of homelessness in Austin.
AHAC provides invaluable input on processes, programs, and practices impacting and serving the homeless population.