Homeless return after cleanup, posing renewed challenges for South Austin businesses

Small businesses in South Austin are grappling with the daunting task of recovering from the vandalism that has left their shattered windows as a painful reminder of the recurring crimes associated with the homeless population in the area. The local employees who witness these incidents on a daily basis have reported that a nearby church provides meals to the homeless, attracting them to the area during the day. However, at night, they loiter and engage in destructive behavior.

Disturbing video footage captures multiple individuals approaching the Headspace Salon in South Austin and callously hurling rocks at the front glass, causing irreparable damage. Laura North, the owner of Headspace Salon and Co-op, lamented, “Over the last couple of months, the damages easily amount to a staggering $10-15,000.” The pain of such losses is particularly intense for small businesses, as they struggle to stay afloat under the weight of this financial burden.

North emphasizes that the act of mindlessly smashing objects and walking away is not only an economic blow but also an unsustainable situation for business owners. The unfortunate reality is that other neighboring establishments have also fallen victim to similar acts of vandalism. Jason Dawkins, an estimator at a targeted building, describes a brazen incident, stating, “We caught him on camera throwing rocks. He proceeded to smash a second-floor window, followed by one around the corner, and then the adjacent window.”

Amidst the chaos, North attributes these destructive actions to homeless individuals and places the blame squarely on the city. Frustrated by the lack of support, she urges authorities to address the crisis they played a role in creating. Reflecting on the encampment cleanup that took place in February at Pack Saddle Pass and Highway 71, North admits that there was a sense of relief and respite. “It felt so good to be able to sleep at night and not worry about break-ins or other terrible things,” she recalls.

However, the relief was short-lived, as the problem resurfaced soon after the implementation of the Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link Initiative (HEAL) in June 2021. According to North, the city’s sporadic and short-lived interventions merely offer temporary relief, allowing the situation to revert to its previous state. Frustration with the authorities mounts as their promises of deploying funding towards addressing the issue remain unfulfilled. Dawkins voices his exasperation, challenging the city’s allocation of resources, exclaiming, “Use the homeless funds effectively and resolve the issue once and for all!”

In light of these circumstances, the employees in the area stress the urgent need for constant police presence as a deterrent. They advocate for increased and sustained patrols to effectively curb the recurring cycle of destruction and bring about a semblance of peace and security to South Austin. The path to recovery for these small businesses is arduous, and they rely on the city’s commitment to proactive measures and meaningful action to help them rebuild and restore stability within the community.

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