Austin’s downtown homeless “neighborhood”
by Kolten Parker
Tension between police, business owners and the homeless is growing, specifically near a small area in downtown Austin where four homeless resource centers are located.
Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, Caritas, the Salvation Army and St. David’s Episcopal Church – all within a three-block radius in downtown – provide resources for homeless people living in Austin. The area, near 7th and 8th Streets and Neches, has a high concentration of homeless, which police say can cause problems for business owners, tourists and the homeless seeking resources.
Police cite an increase in violent crime, mostly alcohol-related, in this area and are combatting this with the Public Order Initiative, a crackdown by police on ordinance violations such as soliciting in downtown that began in September.
However, homeless advocates say the initiative is unfairly targeting the homeless populations downtown and was spurred by crowd-drawing events such as Formula One and SXSW. Police have denied these allegations and maintain the initiative is to keep all of the visitors and inhabitants of downtown safe.
One downtown ordinance that has received much of the criticism, No sit/No lie, which is aimed to keep homeless from sleeping at store fronts in downtown Austin. Commander Troy Gay of Austin Police Department said the ordinance was pushed by community members.