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Aggressive Panhandling Top Concern of Downtown Residents

KUT News

Some people who live and work in downtown Austin spoke out at yesterday's Public Safety Commissionmeeting in support of the Austin Police Department’s so called “Public Order Initiative."

While Police Chief Art Acevedo says the zero-tolerance policy that went into effect in September is not an anti-homeless initiative… it does crack down on crime often associated with the homeless—including violations of the city’s ‘sit and lie’ ordinance.

Some have speculated that APD’s crackdown is happening because of the influx of visitors expected for Formula 1. But the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA) says it’s a long-term problem.

A recent study by the association found aggressive panhandling and homelessness was the number one concern of downtown residents and businesses.

“Austin wants to be a world-class city, we’ve got plans in the works for more residents downtown, some first class hotels, increased business at the convention center. And, really, it’s not just one event, it’s really more about the future of Austin and making sure that we have a safe place that people want to come and visit," Mitchell McGovern, DANA's vice president, says.

McGovern says a recent study and survey of DANA's membership found:

  • More than 73 percent are concerned about their safety when walking downtown at night
  • About 8 percent of respondents said they avoid going out altogether because of safety concerns
  • About 72 percent said they had encountered an aggressive panhandler and had reason to fear for their safety
  • Most respondents (62 percent) said the transient and panhandling issue appears worse than in most other cities.

"The transient issue is not just downtown," McGovern says. "This is a city-wide issue, you can see them at every major on ramp and off ramp of every highway, major intersections. It is acute downtown because of all the social services that are concentrated in downtown. And those social services are overwhelmed which causes a lot of the transients to overflow onto the streets."
McGovern says the neighborhood association wants to see continued enforcement of the city’s ordinances and a focus on transitional housing. The association hasn’t taken a stance on the idea of moving homeless services outside of downtown Austin.

"All of us need to come together," McGovern says. "It's an issue that's costing all of us taxpayers a lot of money. And we need to help the homeless, who are our neighbors, they need help. Some of them are mentally ill, they've got drug issues. And if we don't do something proactive about it, it's going to continue to get worse and become more of a problem for everybody in the City of Austin and potentially threaten our economic future."

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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