Harrison McKinley, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, was evicted from his apartment in Austin in 2013 after falling behind in his rent due to his mother’s medical bills. All of his personal belongings were placed on the curb, and while was gone making arrangements to store them, his neighbors took everything. Three days later he was homeless on the streets of downtown Austin, not sure what his next move would be. Last year, landlords filed 8,645 eviction notices in Travis County justice courts – about 24 every day of the year. Most get resolved without tenants being physically forced from their apartments. But not all of them. In Precinct 2, which covers a big swath of north and west Austin, Chief Deputy Constable George Morales said his deputies are called to forcibly remove a tenant and his possessions about once a day. Once a renter’s possessions are out of the apartment, he added, the constables’ responsibility ends. On May 31, all of Harrison McKinley’s personal belongings were placed beside the curb after he was evicted from his apartment at Villas del Sol Apartments on Rutland Drive. McKinley said he owed $450 in late fees he couldn’t afford to pay; Carrie Girgus, president of United Apartment Group, which this month took over management of the complex, said he owed about $2,000 in rent, late fees and utility payments.
Girgus said McKinley was given more than a week advance notice of his eviction. But by the time it happened, he still hadn’t arranged a place for his belongings. After his possessions were taken out of the apartment, McKinley left to find a moving van. His neighbors began picking through the pile. McKinley said he fell on hard times because he was paying medical bills for his mother, who died in March.
He lost his bed, clothes, TV, hundreds of CDs and DVDs and laptop computer. He said the items were worth $38,000, in all.
Even McKinley’s furniture was taken.
Friends of McKinley tried to protect his things until he returned.
Austin Police officers Adam Torres, left, and Justin Flanery, break up a dispute between McKinley’s friends protecting a pile of his belongings, and two women who wanted to take them. APD spokeswoman Lisa Cortinas said that once the items are outside on the curb, there’s nothing the police can do: “It’s a civil matter,” she said. Meanwhile, the constable’s office, which carries out evictions, said its responsibility ends when the tenant and his belongings are out of the apartment. But Robert Doggett, an attorney with the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said the police were wrong. “It’s disturbing that police officers would allow people to steal other’s property,” he said. “Rather than trying to protect it, they (police) add insult to injury.”
Austin Police officer Justin Flanery, explained to a woman that it was not against the law for her to take the items on the curb.
Dozens of McKinley’s neighbors helped themselves to his belongings.
McKinley’s mattress was carried away.
By the time McKinley returned, not much remained.
Three days later, McKinley stood outside Caritas of Austin, a downtown soup kitchen, wondering where he was going to sleep. “I’m 65 years old and homeless out on the street,” he said.
He walked along East 6th Street headed toward the downtown library, not sure what his next move would be.