South Austin business owners plead for help after homeless camp attacks increase

The owner of the Headspace salon said it usually takes more than an hour for Austin police to arrive, though the raid is still ongoing.

AUSTIN, Texas — Homelessness of aggressive people and slow police response are making it difficult for businesses to stay open, a South Austin business owner said.

Laura North called on Austin police to respond more quickly to active assaults and asked the city to move faster to find shelter for the homeless.

“I want to keep things alive in South Austin, keep old Austin alive,” says Laura North, owner of Headspace Salon and Co-op.

In 2019, North opened the Headspace Salon and Co-op, ensuring that the warmth of Austin was reflected inside, but North has become increasingly indifferent to things outside the business.

“We had people hiding in the bushes waiting for us to get off work at night,” North said. “We were constantly threatened with rape and murder.”

Next to Sharon was a large homeless encampment, with tents strewn under the highway near Ben White Avenue and Parker Saddle Pass.

Some of the people who lived there became extremely aggressive, North said.

“He took huge rocks and smashed our pipe cleaning lines and just started smashing them to pieces,” North said. “He’s throwing stones at customers and employees.”

The latest attack was caught on camera on Monday. You could see a man pull a pole out of the ground and walk up to the salon and act like he was going to smash a window.

“We’d call them 15 to 20 times before the police arrived,” North said. “Back then, we just locked ourselves in and hoped they would show up before something really bad happened.”

Austin police usually take more than an hour to arrive, she said, although the raid is still ongoing.

“We know there are enormous challenges facing this district,” said District 5 Councilman Ryan Alter.

Alter is a council member for the region. He said TxDOT regularly clears the camp, but it will be back soon. He said he would make developing a housing improvement plan a top priority.

“Let’s really have a safe place where you can not only be there but receive services and really start to put yourself on the road to housing,” Alter said.

That’s the promise North has heard from city leaders since day one. For now, she just hopes that APD will at least respond as soon as possible.

“This has become so violent and unsafe for all of us, we just need the support of the police,” North said. “Honestly, if it keeps going like this, I’ll feel a lot better because there’s 24/7 police support here and they’ll be there in five minutes instead of an hour.”

North said she lost customers and staff and now fears her business will be next.

“I don’t feel safe here,” North said. “I don’t feel safe having other people come and work here. I feel bad for the clients that have to go through [this], if something is not done, then we will have to make a very difficult choice. ”

A spokesperson for Austin’s Department of Homeless Strategies did not tell us if there were specific plans to relocate people from that particular encampment. However, the city has moved nearly 500 homeless people from encampments to local bridge shelters and permanent housing since 2021, a spokesman said.

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