I learned something interesting this week. The anti-panhandling ordinance is only enforceable if the ‘victim’ or another witness requests that the ‘offender’ be cited. Otherwise, the police are not obliged to intervene. I’ve come to a conclusion regarding the perceived safety of downtown Austin: panhandling is a red herring issue.
The real issue is the ARCH doesn’t have the capacity to service the thousands of homeless people in Austin. They try, but can’t, and those under served are relegated to the streets of the Entertainment District. These people are easy prey for drug dealers. Over the past six months I’ve seen a surge in drug dealers and gangs staking their turf. Ask any resident that has a view of East 5th street if they’ve recently seen some hooded guy loitering in the middle of a sidewalk for hours on end. What are they doing?
The convention center, hotels, retailers, and residents are becoming more vigilant and zero tolerance on Downtown Austin crime is becoming the battle cry. Downtown stakeholders seem to have reached an unofficial consensus that the police must begin to: 1) shift to a beat system of patrol 2) spread out on weekend nights 3) be more effectual in responding to 911. As a participant in many of the Downtown Austin stakeholder groups, I tell you that the Police force is given plenty of slack. Judging by the frustrated voices at recent meetings, I don’t know how much longer that will continue.
I live and work downtown, and on an average day, I have to tell at least 15 people ‘no’ when they ask for change. It is getting ridiculous. If you’re out and about after midnight, you will literally be accosted by beggars. It is scary at times, and especially for more vulnerable people walking alone. People in other cities are talking about how bad the homeless problem is in Austin. That is sad.
I disagree – tolerating panhandling (and its closely related siblings like bumpreteneurship) leads to a general disrespect for the rule of law downtown. Transitional housing and mental health services can only help those who actually want those services; the guy who was profane after I told him I didn’t have any change outside ToyJoy last week, for instance, wasn’t going to take either one.
“Otherwise, the police are not obliged to intervene.”
That’s because they can’t restrict consensual communications under the First Amendment.
I agree panhandling is an utter red herring and also agree with the idea of beat patrols downtown. Transitional housing and mental health services are the key missing ingredients, IMO.
Yes if you speak to panhandlers most of them aren’t homeless. They’re generally either professional panhandlers or people trying to make a little extra money so they can meet rent. Panhandling is definitely a red herring.
We’ve been having some success in South East Austin with a C.O.P. program and just generally getting all the neighbors educated as to who and what to watch out for. There are a lot of people in that area and if people were really encouraged to dial 911 anytime they saw anything that looked the slightest bit out of line I think you’d quickly see results.
The big change in our neighborhood really happened when everyone got convinced that it was ok to call 911 when something suspicious was going on.