Local homeless woman addresses ban on encampments

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 10:10 PM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - House Bill 1925, a statewide ban on homeless camping, is one of the many laws that took effect on Wednesday.

It includes those living outdoors in tents, sleeping bags or bedrolls.

The law applies to the homeless in Laredo, but local shelters are doing their best to avoid the worst.

As of Wednesday, homeless encampments are now banned throughout the state of Texas.

At this point, cities cannot opt out of the ban, but it allows for existing local ordinances to remain in place.

In Laredo, local social workers have been conducting outreach programs to bring the homeless to shelters so they don’t have to face any penalties, but for some, the journey is still faced with many hurdles.

“My ex-husband and my kids would beat me up, everyday,” said Juana Valero. “It was constant violence, everyday. I got tired of it. So, I had to come to the streets. I found my home here. This my home right now.”

Juana Valero has been living on the streets of Laredo for over a year now. She spends most of her days sitting outside of the Bethany House trying to find solace and shade until the doors eventually open long enough for her to rest her head.

Her purse is like a night stand, with just enough room for the belongings she needs to get her through the day.

“It is a struggle, but people don’t understand. Just because we live in the streets, they think we’re drug addicts or alcoholics. They think we steal everything. They don’t give us a chance to demonstrate that we’re here because we need to be here, not because we want to be here.”

Anyone caught camping in an area not designated by the city faces up to a $500 fine. The idea is to redirect them to shelters like the Bethany House where they can take advantage of the resources being made available.

“Right now, Laredo in all fairness, the encampment issue is not a problem,” said Javier Garcia. “The Bethany House has good communication with the city of Laredo. They’re departments which include: code enforcement, community development, the police department, the fire department. So, any cases out there-out on the streets or under the bridges or an abandoned lot or something and there’s like a camp there, we’re able to got out. Our outreach specialists are able to go out there and assess the situation and our goal is basically to bring them back to the shelter.”

Javier Garcia, executive director of the Bethany House, says the new law is targeting cities like Austin and Houston which have seen a growing number of these camps, but says the lines of communication must stay open.

“We have second and third options, but first and foremost, we want to make sure they’re safe, and that their health is good.”

“It’s hard for us to get anything, because as long as they know we live in the shelter,” said Juana. “In the streets, yeah, we’re cut off and that’s not fair.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler first proposed the bill that became law, saying officials need to do more to “get people out of tents, not merely to move their tents out of sight.” 

Governor Greg Abbott offered his support for the law, saying in part, “We cannot sit idly by and allow Texas families and businesses to suffer the economic and public health consequences that these encampments bring into our cities.”

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