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A Ticket To A New Life
What good does it do for police to ticket the homeless? KEYE TV tagged along on an undercover sting last week where police did a targeted enforcement on aggressive panhandling. Tonight, we follow the story to show you what happens after the tickets are issued.
Larry Rusk is before the judge because he got a ticket for sleeping on the street.
"Mr. Rusk, I see you have a sit and lie offense," said Judge Michael Coffey.
That ticket comes with a fine of up to $500, something Rusk is not able to pay.
"I've been homeless for 15 months, ever since I've been in Austin," Rusk explained. "Of course, I understand [police] have a job to do, but I'm homeless. What else am I going to do? I don't even have blankets."
But in Austin's community court, Rusk likely won't have to pay the fine.
"It's a real problem solving court," explained Austin's Chief Prosecutor Bianca Bentzin."This one is not about punishing people; it's about seeking long term solutions for whatever is causing this type of behavior."
Austin police say getting people into the community courtroom is the point of the stings, like the one targeting aggressive panhandlers. Police say if they can get people into the community court, they're connected with services and that helps stop the petty crime before it escalates.
"It's not about getting fines and making money," said Lt. Christian Malanka. "What we're attempting to do is get people into the court so they can take advantage of the programs the court and city offer."
For recovering alcoholic Joe Martinez, his ticket was his chance to get sober.
"I was trying to hide my beer pretty well, and here comes the cop," remembers Martinez. "And I'm like 'oh damn!' But if it wasn't for that ticket, I wouldn't be where I went, which is Austin Recovery Center, so it worked out great."
It's that sort of ending that Larry Rusk is looking for, after receiving his ticket and appearing before Judge Coffey in community court.
"I did everything I could try to do to get a place," said Rusk of his lack of luck getting housing in the past.
Now, with the court's help, he's hoping by his next court date in February, to have his life turned around.
"I'm hoping I have a place of my own," he said with a smile. "And that this case will be dismissed."
Court officials say there is a limit to their leniency. For people who refuse the help or take advantage of the services, fines and sentences are enforced.
By Karen Kiley