Lockhart facing homeless issues


By Kyle Mooty

LPR Editor

Lockhart faces a dilemma unlike ever before. The homeless population is growing rather rapidly, and the city is deciding which measures it needs to take.

On one hand, much like the ballpark in Iowa, if facilities are provided to help provide shelter for the homeless, they will come… likely faster than before. That could take away from the tourism industry and potentially affect the appeal of downtown.

On the other hand, the humanitarian side of people wants to help their fellow man, woman, and child, therefore seeking ways to help the homeless.

The issue is very complex.

There are three major causes for homelessness: poverty, substance abuse, or psychiatric. In some cases, it’s a combination of two or all three of the aforementioned.

Lockhart Police Chief Gary Williamson gave a presentation to the City Council last week, providing notes and statistics via a PowerPoint he had presented previously at community meetings in December and January.

Williamson said at the community meetings that 20 individuals had been identified as homeless in Lockhart.

“We know that answer is more,” Williamson said. “A local pastor (Pete Arciniega Jr.) who deals with the homeless said, ‘Y’all are way off.’”

Locally, homeless individuals have been identified through interactions with the police department and the Dr. Eugene Clark Library staff.

Of the 20 that were identified late last year, 12 were male and eight female. Nine were homeless due to drug and/or alcohol can addiction. Some were homeless due to mental health issues. Others were homeless due to a domestic violence situation. The other five were homeless due to unknown reasons.

Arciniega estimated the more realistic number of homeless in ockhart was between 80 and 100.

“I can tell you that most of our homeless want to stay in the shadows and they want to avoid the police,” Williamson said.

Currently, Lockhart has the following city ordinances:

* Camping — It is unlawful to camp in any city park or playground, set up a tent, shack, or other shelters, or lay out any bedroll or other sleeping equipment without first obtaining a permit;

* Camping in Public Areas Prohibited — Unlawful to camp in any public area, except with a permit;

* Closing Hours for City Parks and Facilities — Closed to public every night between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

* Bathing in or Damaging any Public Fountain, Reservoir, Stream or River — Unlawful for any person to interfere with or bathe in any public well, water plug, fountain, or reservoir, located in a public area;

* Littering — Prohibits depositing garbage or refuge, except in designated receptacles in any city park;

* Possession of Alcoholic Beverages in Public — Unlawful to possess any alcoholic beverage while located at any public event, sidewalk or other public places, unless in the original package and the seal is unbroken;

* Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages in Public — Unlawful to consume any alcoholic beverage while on any street, sidewalk or other public way within the city (exceptions apply);

* Fires — Unlawful for any person to build or attempt to build a fire within a city park;

* Uncontrolled Outdoor Burning Prohibited — Unlawful to urinate or defecate in public;

* Intrusions and Obstructions in Public Sidewalks and Streets.

State Laws

* Obstructing Highway or other Passageway — Includes sidewalk which the public has access (Class B misdemeanor);

* Public Intoxication — Offense if the person appears in a public place where intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another;

* Criminal Trespass — Offense, if the person enters or remains on or in the property of another.

Arciniega told the Post-Register, “I think we need to focus on getting (the homeless) to care about themselves. But we need to focus on our obvious drug problem.”

The focus group ideas had strategies to reduce homeless, including emergency shelters, supportive services, prevention programs, establishing a community steering committee, pooling resources and fostering collaborative solutions, educating law enforcement officers on alternatives to issuing citations and supporting partnerships with mental health partners, and recruiting landlords as well as public and non-profit groups in the city to assist in providing referrals to municipal court defendants to non-profit groups in the city that provide housing and other services.

Mayor White said he believes the city has identified people that want to help, “either through donations or through providing shelter during the hottest and the coldest days.”

White said the city has an idea of where the homeless that have begun to permeate Lockhart.

“They may be staying on private property with the property owner’s permission,” White said. “We identified people who need shelter, who need food, who need clothing. Shelter was the biggest issue because we don’t have that readily available. We don’t have resources for that type thing, and if we were to rent something we would have to have someone supervising it.”

White said job training would help so that some could “secure a job and get back on their feet.”

In a recent case, a homeless man in town assaulted a police officer and is still in jail.

“Some, as we all know, are not stable mentally,” White said. “They’re not in possession of their mental faculties.”

Chief Williamson said if arrested, the homeless are taken to the county jail for assessment.

“If it is a mental health issue, they are detained, and Bluebonnet Trail is contacted,” Williamson said. “If they commit a crime, they will go to county jail. If it is alcohol or drug related, they have to go to jail and first dry out.”

White said the city faces multiple problems with homeless that are seeking help but do not have the means, and those who just want to live in the streets and parks and are not seeking help.

“Every one of us have gotten calls about homeless sleeping in the parks,” White said to members of the City Council. “It’s to the point where they don’t feel safe to take their children anymore.

“Let’s develop a program that helps those that want help. The ones that want to sleep on our streets, on our library doorsteps, our square and private businesses, we need to encourage them to find another place to go. And I’m talking maybe another city.”

White noted there have been rumors of homeless being brought to town and dropped off by other municipalities, but neither he nor Chief Williamson said they had any proof of such.

“If they’re willing to go, we’ve taken them to the shelter in Austin,” Williamson said. “But they’ve got to be willing to go. We can’t force them against their will.

“Studies show that if you get them home with a support group, they’re more likely to break the cycle of homelessness. And we have some really caring and generous people in this city.”

Williamson added that the police department had received calls about homeless staying in vacant houses, and once proved they are removed and considered trespassing.

Councilmember Brad Westmoreland said the homeless situation was here to stay for the foreseeable future.

 “It’s a problem I’m afraid is gonna be here a long, long time,” Westmoreland said.

Mayor White said one of the biggest downsides to having homeless in town regards the safety of visitors and those shopping the local businesses.

“We’ve had some people on the sidewalks where people don’t come back to those businesses because they don’t feel safe,” White said. “We’ve had some lewd acts lately as well, entering businesses or standing in front of the windows doing some illegal things. I’ve talked to the chief about maybe adding some kind of walking foot patrol in the evenings and having a little more presence as well.”

Chief Williamson added, “There are cities all across the country trying to deal with this.”

In other business:

Seven non-profit and special interest organizations received their requested funding contributions from the city for Fiscal Year 2024-2025, with one applicant – CARTS (Capital Area Rurals Transportation System) presenting its request at the July 16 meeting of the City Council.

Assistant City Manager Joseph Resendez noted that the $49,000 requested in total by the first seven groups is an $8,500 decrease from their collective requested total last year. However, CARTS requested $20,000 last year and will be asking for $40,000 this year.

Both the Ascension Seton Hays Foundation Care-A-Van and the Caldwell County Food Bank requested less this year than last year.

The funding amounts requested and unanimously approved by the City Council include:

* Caldwell County Food Bank — $5,000

* Ascension Seton Hays Foundation Care-A-Van — $5,000

* CASA of Central Texas — $12,000

* Combined Community Action-Meals on Wheels — $8,000

* Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center — $10,000

* Lockhart Area Senior Citizen Center — $4,000

* Take Me Home-Advocates for Transport — $5,000 

The Lockhart Farmers and Artisans Market asked to extend its hours of operation by 30 minutes from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday on Main Street in front of the Caldwell County Courthouse.

Market President Gary Dickenson said the usual crowd dies down around 11:30 as visitors head to lunch and many often don’t return until about 1:45 p.m. The Market must stop at 2 p.m., and Dickenson believes vendors could make additional sales with an extra 30 minutes.

“They come from all over world and United States,” Dickenson said.

Dickenson said he had spoken to all business owners around the square and all but one was in favor of the extended hours.

“They didn’t see a problem with it,” Dickenson said. “It brings people to town and keeps people in town.”

The Market has 40 vendors, but averages between 17-20 on Saturdays.

Councilmember Brad Westmoreland said, “I don’t see how it couldn’t help. It’s a tremendous asset.”

The extended hours were approved unanimously by the City Council.

Council adopted a Professional Services Agreement between the City and Masonwood Development Group to reimburse the City for professional fees incurred relating to the consideration of the Everly project.

Masonwood Development will be 156-plus acres between Borchert and Maple streets with 545 lots, just west of SH 130. There will be two entrances into the development from Borchert Loop. Also, the project, which would include a pool, sunning deck on in private space, would include 19 acres of dedicated public park space along with a trail system, frisbee golf, and picnic areas.

The proposed development would potentially involve voluntary annexation into the Lockhart City Limits.

City Manager Steve Lewis noted that anyone interested can visit that Caldwell County improvement Plan and take a transportation survey at caldwellcountycip.com.

Movie in the Park will be Saturday, July 13 beginning at 8:30 p.m. at Lockhart City Park. This month’s movie is Wish.

Mayor White reminded people of the city’s Free Fan Program, which allows vulnerable residents to beat the heat as it provides free box fans to eligible Lockhart residents while supplies last. Requirements include: Age 65 or older; Have a disability; A Lockhart resident; Didn’t receive a fan from the 2023 Summer Fan Program.

Those eligible can stop by Lockhart City Hall during business hours, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., to pick up their fan. They are asked to bring a government issued ID or utility bill to prove Lockhart residency. If you have a disability, bring a letter from the Social Security Administration.


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