New county initiative hopes to provide services to keep homeless, substance users and mentally ill out of jail
Travis County officials announced plans to build a diversion center that will connect homeless people and those with substance use disorders and mental illness to housing, healthcare and jobs outside of a jail setting.
"For the first time ever, the county, the county attorney, the district attorney and the court administration have come together around a single vision to make our community more safe and equitable," County Judge Andy Brown said at a press conference Tuesday morning.
Travis County Court Judge Tamara Needles spoke at a press conference Tuesday at the Woolridge Park gazebo, followed by County Attorney Delia Garza and District Attorney José Garza. (Travis County Judge Andy Brown/Facebook)
The group submitted a Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal Monday that prioritized the creation of the Travis Center, which would provide community-based preventative services to help divert homeless people and those with substance use disorders or untreated mental illness, from jail.
The Travis County Commissioners Court is in the initial stages of identifying programs, such as the Travis Center, that could potentially be funded by the $247 million the county received through the pandemic relief American Rescue Plan Act, as well as any remaining CARES Act funding. Initial funding for such programs could be disbursed as soon as June, with a second wave to be allocated during the FY 2022 budget process later this summer, according to a Monday memo sent to the Commissioners Court by the county's planning and budget office.
Although funding has not yet been allocated, local elected officials are united in their commitment to a diversion center—and in their belief that the current approach is failing.
"We have turned into a system that is reactive instead of proactive," County Attorney Delia Garza said. "Our jails have really become a symbol of failed policies and of a lack of available funding for the services our families need."
Last week, Garza visited the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) in Houston. The center serves people with mental illness who have been arrested for low-level, non-violent offenses and provides them with mental health services as an alternative to being booked into jail.
"We must stop criminalizing poverty and mental illness and work on real solutions like standing up a diversion center in Travis Co. AS SOON AS POSSIBLE," Garza tweeted on Thursday. "Let us all be brave enough to do the work that really helps people instead of simply pushing them into jails and/or out of (sight)."
Today my team and I took a day trip to Houston to visit the Harris Center. The Harris Center is a successful model diverting people out of the criminal justice system by providing mental health resources out of the carceral setting. pic.twitter.com/3s85QaLKji
— Delia Garza (@DGTCAttorney) April 23, 2021
The diversion center would fit into a host of progressive policy changes enacted in Travis County in recent years, including the 2018 founding of the Sobering Center, which allows intoxicated people to recover in a safe place other than jail or the emergency room. It also lines up with District Attorney José Garza's campaign promises to reform the criminal justice system from the inside.
To my Travis County community: When I asked for your vote, I promised that together we would reimagine our criminal justice system. https://t.co/oDECC6itjQ
— DA José Garza (@JosePGarza) January 29, 2021
Since taking office in January, Garza's office has asked judges to set no-cost or affordable bail for defendants who aren't flight risks and do not pose a threat of violence; expanded pre-trial diversion program eligibility; and prioritized prosecution of violent crimes, securing more than 300 indictments, including a first-degree murder charge for the Austin Police Department officer who shot and killed Mike Ramos last April.
The Travis County Jail is the largest provider of mental health services in the county, similar to jails across Texas and the country. Meanwhile, city residents are in the midst of voting on Proposition B, which would reinstate a ban on sitting, lying, camping and panhandling in certain public areas. "People experiencing homelessness have become pawns of Gov. (Greg) Abbott's political agenda and threatened with jail," Garza said.
He and other county officials argue that diversion programs that offer preventative services will be more effective at ensuring public safety than jail. "True public safety is rooted in the stability of our community," Garza said.
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An alligator attack has been reported, killing a dog at a retention pond near homes on Thome Valley Drive in the Berdoll Farms neighborhood in Del Valle, Texas.
The attack was discovered by neighbor Crystal Jaime on Thursday afternoon after she heard a dog in distress, as first reported by KVUE. Jaime was able to call firefighters to the scene.
AFD said when they responded, they were shocked to find three alligators in the pond and later learned that the area is an alligator sanctuary. The pond is marked with a sign that dangerous animals are present, however, there aren’t any barriers that separate the sanctuary from nearby walking paths, basketball courts and a children’s playground.
Gator sightings at this location, which sits nearby Del Valle Elementary, Middle and High School, were reported in 2014, 2015 and 2018. More recently, there was another sighting in 2020 at Lady Bird Lake.
Neighbors in the area voiced safety concerns back in 2018, citing that children play in the area. AFD said that residents will have to work with animal control if they want them moved.
It remains unknown as to where the alligators came from but it is legal to keep alligators in the state of Texas—there are 14 alligator farming permits statewide.
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After a virtual year in 2020, Austin Fashion Week is coming back with in-person shows at The Domain on Friday afternoon.
The weekend will kick off with the first show at 1:30 p.m. on Friday and end with the final show at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, celebrating Austin’s up-and-coming high fashion scene with six runway shows, more than 50 designers, pop-up shops and coinciding Domain store sales.
After a lifelong dream of becoming a fashion designer, this will be Brandy Hughes and Brandy Design Studio’s first time showing at AFW. Hughes returns to Austin as a designer’s apprentice after studying design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. Austin is where she got her start in the bridal sphere.
“Austin's such a weird kind of place—It's very creative and there's a lot of artistic people here,” Hughes said. “I think that it's going to get bigger and the one thing that's really good about doing fashion in Austin is you have a little bit more freedom to do the things that you want to do and be as crazy as you want.”
Hughes is showing her most recent collection on Friday’s 1:30 p.m. show, which officially came out two months ago, and features simple silhouettes for the wedding march.
Meanwhile, hailing from Dallas, Phillip White of Phit Clothing is set to appear for the third time at AFW. Inspired to begin an exercise journey but disappointed by the lack of variety in plus-size men’s activewear, White took matters into his own hands.
“Every brand that I was seeing out there, the fit was not correct and a lot of it was just very basic black and gray,” White said. “I saw everybody was sort of making the same thing. I kind of came up with my own brand of how I wanted activewear to be and it's very colorful and still flattering.”
His featured collection is based around his love of the Spice Girls growing up, which inspired him to create women’s and unisex clothes on top of men’s fashion for the first time in his career.
“I want it to look good on all body types,” White said. “My vision of the Spice Girls kind of represents everybody. For me, this collection was the perfect bridge for me to introduce women's, men's and unisex—there are a lot of pieces that I think are gender fluid and anybody could wear them.”
Designers attending come from all over—not just Austin—including Canada, the Philippines and Egypt. Don’t go alone, take this guide with you to get the most out of your ticket. Tickets for individual runways start at $50 and $135 for the whole weekend.
Here's a breakdown of fashion week.
1:30 p.m. Show
- Anmarie Design
- Brandy Design Studio
- Cognition Apparel
- Loka Haus
- The National Bureau of Product Research
- Phit Clothing
- The Salt Nomad
3:30 p.m. Show
- Korto Momolu
- AL+LU Apparel
- Iris Gil Designs
- Jhay Lawson
- Kneaded Fashion
- Toshimi Pacumbala
- Unlikely Designs
First up in the morning bracket is Anmarie Design, showing a collection that is two years in the making, and Sewreffic will take the stage last with a ready-to-wear collection.
- AJ Designs
- Nine & Beyond
- Onyx d'Or
- SA Studio
- Shahira Lasheen
- Turtle Cay Island Wear
- Yoli & Co.
- Daniel Esquivel
- Any Old Iron
- Art Institute of Austin
- Camille Cannell
- Christina Ward
- Heirlume Couture
- Joseph Ledesma
- Kweens Royal Tees
- Brittany Allen
- Caycee Black
- Bosses in Style
- Chellie Friday
- Hello Kaiya
- Jen Ley Designs
- Vee Rodriguez
- Mysterious by NPN
- Art IV Play
- Diana Boch
- FiFi x Fashion House
Make it work!
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