AUSTIN (KXAN) - With downtown crime rising and more transients pouring into Austin, Police Chief Art Acevedo is renewing his call to move the homeless shelters that stand near the entertainment district.
"The problems are not homeless problems, they are transient problems," Austin's top law enforcement officer said Thursday. "A population that's very aggressive, very addicted, to alcohol and drugs -- and a bad influence, a bad mix in the entertainment district."
Acevedo also confirmed that some transients are shipped here on a one-way bus ticket from other cities, where the police want to get rid of them.
"They've shared stories that they were placed on a bus or given a ticket," he said. "It doesn't matter. The problem is they're here."
Acevedo's remarks came as new crime statistics show downtown crime has increased so far this year. And in nearly 1-in-4 cases, either the victim or the suspect or both was homeless.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell has said that he is open to Acevedo's view that downtown is a poor choice as the center for the homeless population. But at least two City Council members have said that it's a bad idea too.
"We are more concerned with moving people to self-sufficiency as opposed to a geographic location," said Councilwoman Sheryl Cole. "It is a citywide problem."
Kathie Tovo has also voiced similar concerns.
But Acevedo said the makeup of downtown today is far different when facilities for the homeless first located there. No longer is it just businesses and office buildings. Now, upscale high-rise residential units have changed the profile of the downtown skyline.
"They have an expectation," Acevedo said of the downtown dwellers. "If I'm going to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a condo, I want to be able to go to that corner restaurant or to that cafe."
Business leaders have long wanted the shelters moved.
Bob Woody, president of the East Sixth Street Community Association, has an idea.
"Del Valle comes to mind," suggested Woody. "There's a lot of property there. You want a campus setting, where you have a hospital, perhaps a chapel, classrooms and dormitories. If you're willing to enter that, you can be re-established back in society."
In the meantime, Acevedo said the challenge of managing the issue is up to his department.
"How do you make it better?" the chief said. "Truly from a law enforcement perspective, is that the best place to have it? I don't think I can be convinced it is.
"Quite frankly it's important we keep an eye on the transient population. A lot of those folks are up to no good, that want to keep that lifestyle too often. They're running from the law in other places. That's part of the challenge."
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