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Posts tagged with Richard Troxell

Should the disabled #homeless be fined for sitting down?

Posted on July 7, 2011 by Comments are off

Richard Troxell is the President and Founder of House the Homeless in Austin, Texas. First and foremost he is an advocate for the rights and dignity of the homeless.  Today as this blog posts the Health and Human Services Committee of the City of Austin is debating whether to amend the no sit/no lying down ordinance to exclude people with verifiable known disabilities.  Incredulously there is a lot of opposition.  Here is Richard’s point of view.  We would welcome other points of view and would gladly post.  Needless to say I support Richard’s efforts to amend the ordinance.

Between 2008 and 2010, House the Homeless (HTH) conducted several surveys and gathered others conducted by both the City of Austin and the City of Houston that demonstrated that a majority of people experiencing homelessness want to work. To that end, we have been collaborating with Mobile Loaves and Fishes in our “Let’s Get to Work” Jobs Initiative.   A more recent survey conducted in 2010 by House the Homeless shows that 48%, or about half of those experiencing homelessness, are suffering debilitating health problems that are so severe that they are rendered incapable of working.

472 of the 501 people surveyed in this most recent survey felt that they periodically needed to sit down and rest from time to time, but 94% said they were unable to do so as they could not find a bench.  Compounding the situation, there exists a “Quality of Life” ordinance in Austin that prevents people from sitting or lying down making them subject to fines of up to $500.  This ordinance contains only one medical exception and that’s for people already sitting in a wheel chair.  There aren’t even exceptions for people on crutches or using orthopedic leg braces.   With health concerns ranging from Degenerative Heart Disease to Parkinson’s Disease to Degenerative Rheumatoid Arthritis, half of the homeless population is in need of exceptions to the ordinance.

We are now promoting 19 possible exceptions that range from Disability Award letters from the Social Security Administration or the Veterans Administration to participant letters in the David Powell-AIDS Program to people standing in line at a health clinic and so on. Two city-wide stakeholder meetings resulted in two additional recommended exemptions: evidence of taking psychiatric medications or when the heat index hits 100 degrees or more.

House the Homeless has met with all members of City Council and received  favorable support.  We pointed out that if exceptions are granted (as they should be) then people will be sitting down all over the city.  We do not feel that people suffering disabilities should be sitting on the sidewalks etc. House the Homeless took 350 signatures of people requesting benches to the Mayor.  We think that as we encourage people to be more “Green” and to leave their automobiles to create a “world class city” we should provide an ample number of benches to accommodate all citizens. This should include pregnant women, people with Christmas packages and those suffering disabilities.  In response, Mayor Lee Leffingwell has directed the City Council Health and Human Services Committee to review the 19 “exemptions” requested by HTH and consider benches as part of the mitigation response.

Some social service providers have been opposed to benches suggesting their use may lead to illegal drug sales.  HTH contends that drugs can be sold in either a sitting or standing position and in any event, this is a question  of enforcement.  The benches that House the Homeless recommends  have center dividers so as to deter lying down.

The “Stakeholders” who attended the two meetings consisted of the Downtown Austin Alliance, The Austin Chamber of Commerce, about 10 uniformed police officers, their attorney, an attorney for Travis County, Downtown Community Court, City Staffers, a representative from the Omni and the Driscoll Hotels, downtown neighbors, representatives from the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, ARCH and a representative from Caritas.  They were all joined in opposition and led by Charles Betts from the Downtown Austin Alliance.  As a group and to the last person, they opposed any exceptions or any additional benches intended to be a response to this issue.  Really? A doctor working for the United States Government, determines that a person is disabled after a process that often takes up to 15 months to complete its findings is somehow unacceptable to this group? Or finding of a disability of a Military Medical Review Team for a person willing to sacrifice a leg in Afghanistan  is unworthy of either an exception or a bench?

Today, HTH continues to look toward the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, as possible legal recourse to provide the health relief associated with this issue.

Finally, City staff members have reported that, “the Ordinance is working.”  Really? For whom?  In reviewing COA No Sit/No Lying Down ord. citations secured under the Open Records Act, the Community Court  showed 2,729 tickets were issued between January 2009 through December 31st 2009. 70 tickets were subsequently dismissed with 708 convictions.  So while the HTH Survey indicated 48% of these folks had major disabilities, only 2.6% were dismissed on the basis of disability through the court.  At the same time, it has been observed by advocates that this ordinance has been used indiscriminately to sweep areas of people regardless of their disabilities.  Using the Community Court as a filtering mechanism in this instance, has proven unduly burdensome on this disabled population and ineffective. It would seem more humane and more cost effective to properly train police officers in an amended ordinance that clearly  states specific exceptions.

While it is recommended that a strict list of exemptions be identified by Council, it is none-the-less the belief of HTH that the best common sense, practical response to the issue in a city seeking to attain world class stature, would be for us to simply  provide an ample supply of benches available to all citizens.

At one point in time, it seemed ok to value other people in this country as 3/5ths of that of other people.  Almost everyone lined up behind that concept…but not everyone.

Richard R. Troxell

President House The Homeless

Author of the soon to be released book on Ending Homelessness:  Looking Up at the Bottom Line

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Austin City Council Prepares to Fine and Arrest People with Mental Illness for Sitting

Posted on July 7, 2011 by Comments are off

Richard Troxell is our guest blogger today.  Richard is the founder and President of House the Homeless.  His passion for the rights of those who find themselves homeless is legendary.  We welcome his voice in our community as we dialogue together as a community about this disaster we call homelessness.  We also welcome and encourage other points of view…

Don’t Give Austin a Black Eye!

The Austin City Council is preparing to change the No Sit/No Lie Ordinance.  This ordinance allows for fines up to $500.00 for people who (even momentarily) sit or lie down.

On January 1, 2010.  House the Homeless, Inc., a grassroots organization fighting for the civil rights of all persons, conducted a health survey.  The survey showed that 48% of people experiencing homelessness in Austin suffer disabling conditions that are so severe, they are unable to work.  None-the-less, the No Sit/No Lie ordinance makes no exceptions for this group of people and continues to fine and jail them for the act of momentarily sitting and resting.  The  COA, at the encouragement of House the Homeless, recognizing that the City is presently in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, has set out to bring the ordinance in compliance with the federal law.  To gain compliance, the City Council Health and Human Services Committee, was preparing to present the full Council,  language that would exclude anyone with a disability from fines under the ordinance.  Great!  However, at the last minute the committee has mistakenly inserted the work “physical,” in the statement.  In so doing, the language would basically read, “Anyone with a physical disability would be excluded from fines under the ordinance.”  The effect of this one word change is both dramatic and devastating.

It would mean that anyone with a mental health disability would be subject to fines and forced to enter the criminal justice court system to defend themselves.  Imagine the least capable among us, people with mental health disabilities, being steered into our court system and clogging it up just because they had a momentary respite.  It is well documented in the journals of American Medical Association  that people suffering with mental health disorders are routinely treated with very powerful drugs that often cause patients to become woozy and dizzy.  They often have sunlight and heat sensitivity that depletes them of their energy and cause them to need to temporarily sit and rest.

The promoters of this one word change, attempt to justify their targeting people with mental disabilities by saying that they would be protected under the language “physical” disabilities because they would be having a “physical” reaction to taking medication that causes them to need to temporarily sit down.  Really?  This sounds more like slippery lawyer talk and a thinly disguised rationale created to persecute and prosecute people with mental health problems.

Hey- It’s not the Americans with “physical” Disabilities Act.  It ‘s the Americans with Disabilities Act. Period.  The basis of which is not physical problems or mental problems but rather medical problems.

In essence, City Council is also contending that it is absolutely 100% impossible for a uniformed COA police officer to identify someone who has a mental health concern.  Really?  Is it really so hard to read the label on a medication vial that says Haldol, Thorazine, Risperadol, or Zyprexa and also see that they need to sit momentarily?  Or to look at an individual presenting a letter from a local mental health facility and make a good judgment as to the legitimacy of the situation

Furthermore, adding insult to injury, as proposed, the police officer will have no latitude what-so-ever but to ticket this mentally ill person and send them on to the courts.  What are the odds of that person showing up?  And if that person  stands before a judge (unrepresented or at tax payers’ expense) showing that judge the same medical vial or document that he/she showed the police officer, from MHMR, what then?  The way the law will be written, the judge will also have no latitude and be forced to fine the individual hundreds of dollars that he/she will have no chance of paying.  What then?  A warrant for their arrest for failure to pay the fine?  Once arrested, will we then clog our jail system with people experiencing mental illness needing special medication treatment?  What then, well, House the Homeless,  ADAPT and others will have no choice but sue the city for repeated, flagrant violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act all at tax payer expense!

What’s the alternative?  Well we could simply use the original agreed upon language and allow police officers and the judges to use their good sense and street smarts to determine who can sit and rest momentarily.  And Austin can move to become the “world class” city that it purports to be simply by providing enough benches citywide so that anyone like mom’s toting kids and packages can just sit for a moment and rest briefly before they move on.  Don’t give Austin a Black Eye.  The whole world is watching…on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the House the Homeless website with well over 1,000,000 followers.

Let’s take Action.

Take a minute and tell City Council Members that:  “This is unacceptable. Any disabled person should be able to sit down in response to their disability.” Remind them that it’s the Americans with Disabilities Act …Not the Americans with Physical disabilities Act.

E-mail them now.








Alan Graham

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