AUSTIN (KXAN) – Business owners near a sanctioned encampment in southeast Austin have said that without enough space for people to live inside the camp, the overflow is causing problems outside of it.
Caleb Harris owns a franchise of College Hunks, a moving company, which is run out of a building just north of Esperanza Community. Harris said especially over the last month, they’ve seen an increased number of people — who overwhelmingly appear to be living on the vacant property behind the camp — breaking into cars, stealing equipment and becoming aggressive with people at the business.
Harris says over the last few years, he’s spent tens of thousands of dollars replacing and fixing moving equipment, including the window at the front of the store, a box truck ramp and eight catalytic converters.
“That camp has changed a lot over time. It used to allow almost everybody to camp there and then they’ve changed it drastically so now we’re getting people who can’t camp in that location are camping back behind me here,” Harris said pointing to a large chunk of vacant land butting up to the property his business is on.
According to the Travis County Appraisal District, that chunk of land is owned by the City of Austin. KXAN has reached out for comment.
The Other Ones Foundation (TOOF), which runs Esperanza, says they have 60 shelter beds at the sanctioned camp, which are filled. They’re aiming to have 140 additional units built by the end of next summer. The people at that location receive “holistic services, including housing navigation, job training, healthcare, and more,” TOOF said.
TOOF sent the following statement in part:
“When people are unable to access Esperanza because of our capacity, we point them toward outside resources, though these are often all on a waitlist because of the lack of shelter beds and services across Austin. We also offer transportation assistance if people are able to reunite with family or some other form of supportive community elsewhere.
We have an ongoing, collaborative dialogue with neighboring businesses and residents to address issues as they come up, but the vast majority of these incidents are not linked to people staying at Esperanza. TOOF cannot be saddled with the responsibility of all unhoused people in Austin.”
According to Austin Police Department crime data, there have been two crimes reported near Harris’ property over the last month: one for criminal mischief and the other for assault by threat. Harris said the people turned away from Esperanza, living on vacant City of Austin land, have caused additional problems that have gone unreported this month.
“You can’t cut out homelessness, I’m not saying that that’s a thing. Everybody’s got to have a place, but the vandalism is something we’ve got to figure out a way to address,” Harris said.
TOOF pointed to the lack of available shelter beds to send people to.
The Austin Police Department declined to say whether officers had noted increased crime in the area but did say officers “are constantly patrolling areas and regions of the city proactively.”
According to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), data from the Austin Police Department shows “from 2014-2019 that 2% of all violent crimes are of an unhoused person perpetrating a crime against a housed person.”