Austin, TX

Austin, TX Task Force, Reimagining Public Safety, Recommends Creating Neighborhood Hubs With Police Funds

Carol Lennox

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Sign saying "Think outside the box."Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

During their report in to the Austin City Council in April, 2021, the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force emphasized the need for establishing hubs where neighborhoods can provide service to their own community. The hubs would be designed to provide aid without calling the police for certain events. They propose that providing services and resouces to communities will reduce the circumstances that often lead to crime, or to escalation of police interactions with those with mental illness.

Sirabhi Kukke of the task force asks, "What if there was a community health worker in charge of a neighborhood, knowing all the households in the neighborhood, knowing who's experiencing what?" The idea is that the community health worker would be trained in deescalation techniques, and could be called to respond to a mental health crisis instead of calling the police. Ideally, the health worker would live in the neighborhood or community. They woud be certified by the Texas Board of Health.

The hubs would also have doctors and nurses on site two weeks of every month to provide medical and mental health services. The proposal suggests the hubs be run by neighborhood residents and would be stocked with food and medical supplies.

Kukke and the Public Health Reinvestment division of the task force propose opening five hubs this year in areas of the Eastern Crescent of east Austin. They propose staffing them with fifty community health workers.

The Equity Reinvestment in Community wants the hubs to also operate as funnels to city, state, and federal aid. They could be places where direct financial assistance could be coordinated. RENT, Relief of Emergency Need for Tenants, was established a year ago to aid people with rent who had lost their jobs during covid. Some of the increase in homelessness in Austin, TX is due to evictions that, while delayed in some cases, were unethically conducted during the worst of the epidemic. Many of those people were unable to access the funds for rent because of the difficulty of the application process, according to Paula X. Rojas, head of the Equity Reinvesment in Community group.

The Survivor Justice Project focuses on survivor support and violence prevention. The head of that group, Amanda Lewis, believes that the Victim Services Unit should stay within the Austin Police Department for now. The group wants to work with the city's newly created Office of Violence Prevention to develop programs.

Lewis sees the same needs in victims and survivors of violence that the others see in communities. She believes the hubs can help address those needs, such as cash assistance and housing assistance. She is quoted in the Austin Chronicle saying, "Everyone should have equal access to things that heal them in the ways that they need it. And that includes historical trauma, it includes state trauma, violence where there's a new shooting every day. We need to heal from that stuff. And for peope who experience rape, domestic violence.The city has a long history of institutional betrayal of folks who expect support and accountability. So we need to be able to build up other systems and opportunities for healing."

In the same article, Kukke adds, "All of these recommendations don't really stand alone. The overarching goal is to offer a countepoint to the criminalization of our communities, and to reduce the space, the distance, between those people who are supposed to help, and the people who are actually in need. So if this is the framework, you know, to be evidence-based, prioritizing people, reducing harm, and being trauma-informed, it's sort of the antithesis of targeting and criminalizing."

The Reimagining Public Safety task force proposes funding the proposed hubs and the other recommendations by taking half of the Austin Police Department budget. That budget has doubled from 2008 to 2020, while Austin Public Health at the beginning of COVID had a budget that was only 10% of the Austin police budget.

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My purpose is to inspire and inform. You can read more by me on Medium.com/@carollennox, and on the Good Men Project. I've had a lifetime of valuable experiences, and I want to share the lessons I've learned readily, or been forced to learn. I'm a psychotherapist, a hypnotherapist, a mother to my amazing son, Blake Scott, whom I write about often. I also write about race, equality, social justice, sex, government, and Mindfulness, not in that order.

Austin, TX
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