Despite an increase in Austin’s homeless population, there have been fewer conflicts with the demographic near campus, according to employees of businesses along Guadalupe Street.
“Last summer was when it was really bad,” Tyler’s store manager Ashley Simon said. “All the drugs were going around, and there was no police presence at all. When they do come in, we normally get some of the guys that are working here to help us and stay with us, just because you don’t know how they’re gonna act if you tell them to leave.”
Homelessness has risen by 20 percent in Austin in the last year, according to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, an organization that releases an annual report detailing the number of homeless individuals in the Texas capital city. For 2016, the number of homeless individuals in Austin rose from 1,832 to 2,197, according to the report.
In the midst of this city-wide increase, however, Simon said she’s noticed a smaller amount of transient activity along the Drag due to a stronger show of force on the part of UTPD and APD.
The Department of Public Safety’s recent evaluation of campus security after the murder of Haruka Weiser addressed this topic, stating policies should be developed to reduce the presence of transient individuals on campus. Guadalupe Street, although not on campus, has long been a center of contention on this issue, since a significant portion of the UT student population lives nearby.
“I don’t really know of any major cases of one of the transients bothering someone,” Café Medici barista Jered McCorkel said. “It sounds like a sort of agenda of fear to me or generally affluent people who are forced to be involved with extremely poor people, and they’re not used to that.”
Whether the University would be as invested in addressing the homeless population if they weren’t located close by is a question that McCorkel said is ignored, and co-worker Lance Weihmuller said larger problems are being brushed aside because of this lack of investment.
“People on the Drag aren’t anything more than an eyesore to the people [who] want to clean up the Drag,” Weihmuller said. “I think the greater safety concern is why and how those people end up on the Drag and why they are in such need.”
Other business owners and employees on Guadalupe Street said they don’t find the nearby homeless population threatening. CVS shift manager Carmen Landon said usually whoever is loitering in the store will leave without a conflict once she mentions the police.
“When you mention the police, they’ve already dealt with the cops, and they know what the issue is going to be,” Landon said. “Very rarely do we have an individual that’s going to cause trouble, unless they’re
The University Area Partners Meeting, a forum for business-owners along Guadalupe Street, meets once a month to provide a platform for employees and business owners to discuss these issues. Simon said her relationship with APD and UTPD has improved because of it.
“Now, UT police will come in here and be like, ‘Hey, is everything OK?’” Simon said. “They’re just here more often than before. They were never here before.”