By Jon Dougherty
(TNS) Last fall, city officials in Austin, Texas, moved to decriminalize homelessness in most of the city, and the results were predictable: Homelessness has exploded throughout the state capital, and now it’s becoming an even bigger problem than it was before.
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Business owners are reporting that homeless people are encroaching on their businesses and in ways that are not safe for bystanders or those living on the streets.
â€œOur biggest thing is this isnâ€™t safe for anybody, and that includes the homeless population,â€ Vince Young Steakhouseâ€™s Executive Chef Phillip BrownÂ toldÂ KXAN.
Brown shared photos he took of a large cardboard box behind his restaurant where people had set up camp on Twitter Wednesday.
“This is not where people should be camping – this is the alleyway of our business. Not only is this VERY unsafe for our guests, patrons and staff, this is not a safe space to camp out! Something must change!” he wrote.
@MayorAdler @austintexasgov This is not where people should be camping – this is the alleyway of our business. Not only is this VERY unsafe for our guests, patrons and staff, this is not a safe space to camp out! Something must change! @ToddAndDonKLBJ pic.twitter.com/ezg6DvWTtL
— VinceYoungSteakhouse (@vysteakhouse) February 13, 2020
There are now more police in the area, Brown said, but he noted “they can’t be everywhere all the time.”
Criminal activity has gone up in tandem with the rise in homelessness as well. Brown said he was injured about a year-and-a-half ago when a homeless man disrupting his outside tables hit him in the head. He had to have 13 stitches.
As usual, the Democrats running Austin are downplaying the problem.
Mayor Steve Adler told KXAN Monday that Austin remains ‘one of the safest cities’ in the state, while accusing anyone blaming the rise in homeless-related criminal activityÂ on the homeless as being biased.
â€œWe have a challenge. Weâ€™re attacking it, not hiding it,” Adler said.
Local residents are, of course, seeing the problem first-hand and up close, having to actually deal with it on a daily basis unlike the mayor and city officials.
Craig Staley, co-owner ofÂ Royal Blue Grocery,Â saidÂ in November that the homeless population grew more empowered after the city council voted to weaken ordinances regarding panhandling, lying on sidewalks, and camping in certain public areas.
He told local media that his employees are being confronted more often now by homeless people and that shoplifting had increased, despite the mayor’s denials and finger-pointing.
â€œWhen we first opened our store last decade, if you had trouble with someone that was homeless, youâ€™d say, â€˜You canâ€™t sit there,â€™ and theyâ€™d say, â€˜Okay, sorry.â€™ And now itâ€™s, â€˜Screw you.â€™ They changed the world downtown in about three weeks,â€ he said.
Brown has resigned himself to the fact that the problem isn’t going to be addressed anytime soon.
â€œWe just want some support and feel that we are being cared about, that our opinion does matter,â€ he told local media.
Notably, it is still against the law in Austin for homeless people to camp in “public spaces,” which, naturally, includes city hall.
Gov. Greg Abbott vowed last year to do something to address Austin’s decriminalization.
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â€œIf Austin â€” or any other Texas city â€” permits camping on city streets it will be yet another local ordinance the State of Texas will override,â€ the governor posted on Twitter, according to theÂ Austin Statesman. â€œAt some point cities must start putting public safety & common sense first. There are far better solutions for the homeless & citizens.â€
That hasn’t happened yet.