AUSTIN (KXAN) — Complaints tied to Austin’s homeless population are growing.
Two-and-a-half weeks after new city rules were approved to decriminalize homelessness, some business owners said they’re seeing more problems.
They recognize: the real struggle is finding a solution everyone can agree on.
With the buzz of his blades, Oscar Rivera can clean up any mess. But he’ll tell you his customer’s hairline isn’t the area that needs the most help.
“Sometimes you will see people laying right here, right on the ground, and when you come early in the morning you have to tell them to get away,” said Oscar Rivera, the barber and manager of Gallery 44.
Gallery 44 is located right off Highway 290 and Manchaca. Rivera said his business isn’t the only one in the area affected.
“It’s nothing against those people, but when you are trying to build an establishment, it’s hard to go further and grow.”
Just down the street, Strait Music has its own problems. Vice President and third generation owner, Clint Strait, has added locks to the bathrooms and dumpsters and said he regularly finds needles in the parking lot.
“I’ve had to call the police more times in the last four months than I did in the past 15 years,” Strait said. “This is affecting my business and I can’t have some of these things going on.”
“I’m glad that businesses and citizens are dealing with this issue, its probably something that we should have been dealing with years ago,” said Mark Hilbelink, the director of the Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center.
The Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center has made a significant dent in assisting those experiencing homelessness. According to Hilbelink, the center has placed 400 homeless people in permanent housing over the past four years.
Hilbelink said Austin is dealing with an issue of accountability. And the people of Austin need to offer more resources if they want to see change.
“It’s hard to hold people accountable for not throwing away their trash when they don’t have receptacles to put them in. It’s tough to hold people accountable for being allowed to camp for using the bathroom in public places when they don’t have a place to use the bathroom,” Hilbelink said.
In August, city manager Spencer Cronk will make recommendations on how to better address the homeless issue, including potential changes to the sit-and-lie ordinance, adding new tools to help police enforce the law and provide options for temporary shelter for families.
The bottom line: Hilbilenk said this is a complex issue which requires thoughtful solutions. And it’s up to stakeholders, like the businesses near the homeless camps, to provide their input.
“One of the things that we can do is come together to come to a comprehensive solution,” Hilbelink said.
A look at 311 complaints
A look at the numbers from 311 complaints show the issue is apparent to Austinites.
Calls for service requests, with the key word “homeless” or “transient”, show more than 27,000 calls so far this year. That’s already more than last year.
But, it’s also important to note, the rate of homeless increasing in Austin. Here’s a look at the “point in time” count from ECHO. While the number of people living on the streets or in shelters has increased, that rate has been much more gradual compared to complaints.