By LYNETTE HAALAND , Four Points News
People illegally camping on property adjacent to Steiner Ranch has caused concern among some residents. With an illegal encampment so close, some don’t feel safe and others fear wildfire risk.
The Tacara Steiner Ranch apartment complex knows about the issue.
“Tacara Steiner Ranch is aware that a homeless encampment exists in the vicinity of our apartment community,” shared Shelby Blincoe, Tacara community manager. “Property management has not received widespread complaints from residents concerning issues with persons who may reside in the encampment.”
But over the past several months, law enforcement has been notified which led to an arrest last week.
Adjacent to the Tacara property is Lower Colorado River Authority property and after being alerted multiple times, a LCRA Ranger arrested a man on September 14 after multiple trespass warnings.
“When LCRA becomes aware that someone is camping in an unauthorized area, LCRA notifies the person they are not allowed to camp there and asks them to leave,” said Clara Tuma, LCRA public information officer. LCRA Rangers, who are certified law enforcement officers, also can issue criminal trespass warnings or citations when necessary.
“After repeated warnings in recent weeks, LCRA Rangers on Wednesday arrested a man staying in the area referenced for criminal trespassing,” Tuma shared.
But according to reports, there is more than one person living in the woods.
Watching from the balcony
Ryan Rucker has lived in Steiner Ranch for 18 years and for the past 10 months or so has lived at Tacara.
He first started noticing some camping activity about 100 yards away from his apartment balcony in the greenbelt behind Tacara about five or six months ago, before summer began.
“One day I saw something and wondered ‘What’s that in the woods across the way?’ We got binoculars and saw the corner of a tent in the greenbelt area behind my apartment,” Rucker said.
“Over the summer, a clothesline started showing up in the trees with clothes hanging up on it,” Rucker said.
“Over time you could tell there were other structures and the camp was getting bigger,” Rucker said. The campers were clearing out more of the dense brush.
At one point a street sign was nailed to a tree or propped in it that said a camp name on it. Rucker said maybe that’s what they were calling their camp.
At times, Rucker hears voices because the area echoes.
“I’ve heard people arguing at times,” he said, which indicates more than one person has been living in that wooded area.
Occasionally Rucker would catch somebody coming out into the open area.
“They would walk out there and squat out in the open,” he said.
“I’ve seen more than one person go out to go to the bathroom for sure.”
“It blows my mind they go out in the open to go to the bathroom, right where everyone can see them,” Rucker said.
Rucker has not seen or smelled bonfires from the encampment. Rarely he sees what appears to be small cooking lights likely from something like a propane camp stove.
He noted that if any fire got out of control, it could “set the whole woods ablaze pretty easily in this drought.”
He also wonders if these campers are watching people in the apartments. He doesn’t shut his blinds and suspects many of his neighbors don’t either living on the greenbelt.
“If those guys have binoculars, they have six buildings they could be watching,” Rucker said.
A neighbor of his who used to enjoy taking hikes in the greenbelt with her child and dog is now “scared to run into the homeless guys,” he said.
Although Rucker is not overly afraid of this situation, he is more cautious now with his two children.
“I won’t let my two young children walk the dog by themselves now in the greenbelt,” Rucker said.
Tacara’s Blincoe says her team is responsive when necessary.
“While we do not have the legal authority to police the greenbelt, please know that our team is vigilant and responsive when needed to occurrences in and around the apartment community,” Blincoe said.
“Resident safety and comfort are among our highest priorities. We take seriously any reports we may receive concerning non-residents – regardless of their housing status – trespassing or causing disturbances in our apartment community,” she said.
Tacara residents are strongly encouraged to contact law enforcement for immediate assistance with suspected criminal activity and promptly report any such incidents to property management, Blincoe added.
Travis Co. Sheriff’s
Kristen Dark, Travis County Sheriff’s Office public information officer, said that trespassing on undeveloped land depends if it is on public or private land and if there are “no trespassing” signs posted.
Private lands are dependent on the owner of the property or a property foreman or manager, she said.
“In most cases, the violator would be issued a Trespass Warning and escorted off of the property. If violators refuse to leave, they may be arrested for Trespassing or if they return after being issued a warning, they can be arrested,” Dark said.
This is spelled out in a Texas Penal Code Title 7. Offenses Against Property, Chapter 30, Burglary and Criminal Trespass.
In general, TCSO does not involve itself in other agency investigations unless our assistance is requested directly by the agency, Dark said.
“Arrestees see a magistrate/judge and the rest of the process is a function of the court system,” Dark said.
A different Steiner resident has been monitoring the situation regularly and has called Tacara and LCRA multiple times about the issue. He asked to be anonymous.
He doesn’t want another wildfire to start because of a homeless encampment neighboring Steiner. He remembers well the Labor Day weekend wildfire in 2011 that destroyed 23 homes in the community.
On September 13 the concerned resident stopped at the side of RM 620 and went past the shopping carts and trash. About 30 yards into the woods, he said he saw a man standing at an encampment.
It was likely the one arrested the day after because the man was on LCRA property.
One issue is that many times homeless people come right back. “And when (law enforcement) arrests them, the Travis County DA won’t do anything and they are right back again,” the resident shared.
He added that another issue is that homeless people will “get run off of” one property and go to the other for a while and then go back to the original site in an effort to dodge trespassing consequences.
LCRA’s Tuma shared that anyone who sees campers in undesignated areas of LCRA land should call LCRA’s 24-hour dispatch at 1-866-627-2267. In emergency situations, call 9-1-1. Camping is only allowed in designated areas on LCRA land, under section 14b of LCRA’s Land and Water Use Regulations.