Austin to fence off homeless hotspot downtown

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Ben Buck heads into work at the concert venue Empire Control Room, what he walks past can get pretty ugly. 

“Finding feces on the sidewalk and having to clean it up is part of it,” Buck said. “Every time you have to walk through the alley you’ll find things such as used condoms, syringes, and feces.”

The alley branches off from Red River Street near 7th Street and connects the road with the path below at Waller Creek. 

With the Austin Resources Center for the Homeless just a block away, the alley is primarily used by some of the city’s homeless to conduct illegal activity. 

Bars flank the alley on either side, and across the street is Hoboken Pie. Manager Jerod Ray said the constant back and forth mixed with questionable activity from those entering and exiting hurts business. 

“People will be a little apprehensive to come down this way, just because, you know, it has a certain vibe,” he said.

After more than a year spent studying what to do to improve the area, the city’s Economic Development Department decided to install fences. 

The two fences will both be ten feet high. One will block the front of the ally and include gate access for city workers and building owners, while the other will block the back of the alley on the Waller Creek side. 

“Having a fence there does eliminate the passageway from Waller Creek up to Red River and also we hope will discourage the type of activities that have been taking place in the alley,” said City Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes downtown. 

There’s no estimate yet for how much the fence will cost.

In addition to the fence, the city is also considering improving the sidewalks and lighting in the area. It’s also looking into installing planter boxes.

The Economic Development Department is currently in the process of selecting a contractor to build the fence. Once it does, it’s expected to take another six to eight weeks to actually build it. 

Buck is glad something’s being done, but believes ultimately more help for the area is needed. 

“In the end, people would end up finding a different spot, there’s always another dark hole, alley, place to lounge,” Buck said.

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