Updated 10/11/2012 03:32 PM
Downtown homeless issues heat up as major events near
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As the U.S. Grand Prix is expected to bring thousands of people from out of town into Austin’s core, tensions between business owners and the city’s homeless population are escalating.
Homeless advocate Richard Troxell says a new “Public Order Initiative” has Austin police rounding up homeless people at a disproportionate rate in an attempt to sweep them under the rug.
"These are people who are down on their luck,” Troxell, president of House the Homeless said. “How is it that we can take such a heavy-handed approach by gathering these people up and then shaking them down to see who has got a problem?"
Last weekend, he says police arrested an abnormal number of homeless, just as the Pecan Street Festival was getting underway along East Sixth Street.
He worries police will do the same thing for ACL music festival next weekend and the Grand Prix next month.
Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole is looking at ways to address the homeless issue in Austin permanently. She believes one major Florida city could hold answers.
"There are experts from Miami that have had a very successful model,” Cole said. “They have reduced their homeless population by 80 percent in the last ten years."
Troxell suggests involving the business community if they don't want to have the homeless in their backyard anymore. Mayor Pro Tem Cole was reluctant to agree, but says a successful plan will involve cooperation across the city.
"Businesses would have to bring to the table the dollars that would empower, that would put the nonprofits in a position where they could go somewhere," Troxell said.
Troxell brought his new approach before City Council last week. He says homeless agencies have tried before, but ran into roadblocks from neighbors.
Cole says what Austin has can still work, pointing back to Miami's model.
"They also have a downtown homeless shelter in their business district," Cole said
Homeless advocates from Miami will be in Austin later this month. They’ll be part of a discussion about homelessness on Oct. 22 at the LBJ Library.