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Council deliberates over homelessness data collection

Thursday, September 9, 2021

San Marcos City Councilmembers approved an interlocal agreement between the City of San Marcos and Texas State University regarding research for a needs assessment relating to homelessness in San Marcos, among other services, during Tuesday’s meeting. 

As the council deliberated, there was heavy discussion concerning the topic of police assistance when researchers would be conducting their data collection and research. 

Mayor Jane Hughson began the discussion by proposing an amendment that would include gathering “information regarding the impact of homeless residents on local businesses via survey of business owners with locations affected by homeless residents. Survey will be developed by COSM and San Marcos Chamber of Commerce input.” 

The motion to approve the amendment would pass 6-1. Councilmember Maxfield Baker had opposition to the item in regards to the need for police officers. 

Director of Public Safety Chase Stapp explained the reasoning behind officers being present during the research, stating, “The request was that there would be provided security when they go into the homeless encampments. The surveys themselves will be conducted by the researchers, not by the police officers.” 

Initially, the project proposal involved no outreach and no surveying of homeless neighbors in the city. However, researchers determined that it was a required component of the study.

“You’re going to get a very different response by sending people with guns, as opposed to sending real counselors and social workers that are equally as safe without coming out there with firearms,” Baker said.

While there haven’t been any reported acts of violence associated with the homeless encampments in a few years, Stapp explained that he didn’t want to downplay the fact that it does happen. 

“My concern is how it’ll skew data,” Councilmember Alyssa Garza said.“If you're asking them about their experience, these are already a vulnerable population and then you are adding the layer of law enforcement.” 

Councilmember Baker would go on to propose removing  “accompanied by a homeless outreach team member from the police department” from the amendment. The amendment would fail 2-5. 

While many suggestions were given, council member Melissa Derrick proposed the amendment to include that officers should wear “plain clothes.” 

Ultimately, the motion to amend “police department officers involved in this task will be in plain clothes with all law enforcement equipment concealed” would pass 6-1. 

San Marcos Record

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