Moving encampments off public streets has made it more difficult to provide medical support to Austin’s unhoused 

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Tuesday December 14th 2021 by Samuel Stark

The camping ban has undermined years of strides by local emergency services in caring for the homeless, making it more difficult and expensive to respond to an increase in emergency calls, according to a senior emergency services official.

The ban forced more people to leave easily accessible areas, increasing the likelihood of injuries and making it difficult for Austin-Travis County’s Emergency Medical Services teams to provide preventive care and respond more quickly to emergencies, said Commander Blake Hardy, who is the ATCEMS Community Oversees Healthcare Paramedics.

“A call can come from someone who’s just injured their ankle and can’t walk,” said Hardy. “If you’re in a tent on the side of the road, it’s just an ambulance. When they are 200 meters in the forest, it’s an ambulance, a rescue team, a commander, a fire engine. “

“(It) is becoming a wilderness rescue that involves multiple agencies and multiple devices,” he said.

In May, Austin voters voted in favor Suggestion B, which banned public warehouses, banned resting in certain areas and restricted panhandling. The measure was easily exceeded by 15 points.

ATCEMS has worked to help people who are not housed become less dependent on emergency services by attending the community and proactively helping people address medical and mental health needs. By proactively working with people to write prescriptions and manage their health, Hardy and his colleagues sought to reduce critical emergency calls and expensive emergency rooms.

“(The ban) probably got us back to where we were maybe four or five, six years ago,” Hardy said.

ATCEMS believed that they were making progress in teaching the importance of following medication plans to alleviate medical problems. The ban created more uncertainty for these communities, he said. EMS has now seen that people are more focused on basic survival needs like food, water and shelter and less concerned with following important prescriptions.

Hardy said the ban also broke trust between these communities and the EMS staff who are there to provide support.

“(This is) a population that is not easy to communicate with a lot. … They are confusing the agencies they support – EMS and CommUnityCare – thinking that we are the gatekeepers for the supporting housing and HEAL initiative, ”said Hardy.

This population is sometimes angry with the workers there to support them because they mistake paramedics and other emergency services for the people who decide who gets shelter and who doesn’t, he said.

Hardy acknowledged that the ban and other decisions to reduce homelessness raise complex issues with no simple solutions.

“Moving them off creates a number of problems,” he said. “And it repairs the visible part by making it invisible.”

“Until Austin is a place that welcomes and supports everyone, regardless of residential status, we will see more stories like this one with fatal consequences for people without privileges and without access to life-saving services,” said a spokesman for the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO ) it says in an email.

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Moving encampments off public streets has made it more difficult to provide medical support to Austin’s unhoused