Austin daycare owner threatened at knifepoint, asks for city’s help in addressing crime

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A daycare owner is calling for the city’s help after she was threatened at knifepoint on her business property.

Dina Flores, who founded the Escuelita del Alma preschool in 2000, said a shirtless man was bathing at a faucet near the school on Tuesday. When she approached, informed him that he was on private property and asked him to leave, he brandished a knife and repeatedly pointed it at her menacingly. She said she reported it to Austin Police, who arrived on scene more than two hours later.

Flores claims she’s witnessed an increase in crime near Escuelita del Alma on Interstate 35 and East 32nd Street since the city opened up the nearby Days Inn hotel last year to be used as a “Protective Lodge” for people at high risk of catching COVID-19.

The ProLodge was never part of the community’s homeless response system. However, “most individuals accessing the ProLodges are experiencing homelessness,” the city said last month.

“Since June 2020, it’s gradually escalated to a very unsafe situation. Why are you going to continue to make this even more unsafe for us, for the children who come here?” Flores said. “In an instant, something can get out of hand and something really tragic can happen. And I can’t risk something like that happening here. We have children, we have parents showing up constantly. And my staff. They have to feel safe coming to work every day.”

It’s important to note the ProLodge has been vacant since the city cleared it on June 18, 2021 to prepare it to become a bridge shelter in August. City officials contend any crime that has been committed nearby recently shouldn’t be associated to the hotel’s use as a ProLodge.

“The property that is due to become a City bridge shelter from next month has been vacant since mid-June. When it opens it will not be a walk-up shelter, and all individuals that stay will be formally referred and transported there. The bridge shelter will initially be designated for individuals served by the City’s Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative, through which people living in encampments are directly connected to stable housing. These individuals will be offered shelter for a brief period while they work with social service staff to locate a housing unit.”

City of Austin Spokesperson

Flores has escalated her issues via a letter to Council Member Kathie Tovo, in which she details some of the crimes against her and her property since the Days Inn became an official ProLodge. That includes:

  • Harassment of parents and students at drop-off and pick-up
  • Daily littering
  • Public indecency and nudity
  • Use of grounds for overnight sleeping
  • Intoxication
  • Frequent attempts at overnight break-ins
  • Vandalism and theft costing approximately $15,000

Council member Tovo spoke to KXAN on Wednesday and said Flores’ letter was the first time she had heard about these issues, and that she was under the impression most people in the Cherrywood neighborhood had given their blessing to the city for it to pursue using the Days Inn as a bridge shelter beginning in August.

Even still, Tovo pledged to speak directly to Flores, address her concerns and connect her to city staff so they can begin having an open discussion about safety moving forward.

Even still, Flores fears the opportunity to provide helpful feedback and enact lasting change has already passed. According to a city memo, the bridge shelter at the Days Inn will open in August.

“In June 2020, I chose to not formally complain to City of Austin officials, because I was informed that the housing at the Days Inn Motel was temporary,” Flores wrote to Tovo. “Now I must raise my voice in protest, because someone, somewhere, made a decision that will continue to permanently affect Escuelita del Alma and no one seemed to care.”

Transition to bridge shelter

There are tight safety restrictions for when the Days Inn is converted to a bridge shelter.

A city spokesperson said per the lease agreement, the city will provide 24/7 security on property, similar to the staffing that was on site when the building was used as a ProLodge. Security was provided by the Austin Police Department, which stationed a patrol car at the entrance at all times.

The Days Inn is one of four former hotels the City of Austin has approved to buy to convert into a shelter.

The former Rodeway Inn in south Austin transitioned into a bridge shelter in June, providing room for 75 people. The city said that hotel will hit capacity by the end of July or in August.

The shelters will not be for walk-up individuals, but for those experiencing homelessness who have been hand-selected for temporary residence while they connect with social services and work to find more permanent housing.

Reach KXAN’s Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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