AUSTIN (KXAN) — The SFC Farmers’ Market, which hosts a market in downtown Austin and another in Sunset Valley, says it wants customers and vendors to feel safe. This comes after a business announced it was leaving the Saturday market at Republic Square because of concerns over homeless people in the area.
In a Facebook post, SFC wrote, “We acknowledge that Downtown Austin has seen an increase in homelessness as our city has grown, and this can be visible in a location such as ours. We have safety protocols in place and all our staff and crew are trained on how to handle a crisis situation should it occur.”
That post came after a Facebook post by Round Rock Honey Company on Saturday, saying that after nmore than 15 years of participating in the Republic Square market, that would be the business’s last day there.
It said in part, “Unpredictable and unsafe behavior by vagrants and mentally ill individuals at the market has created an unsafe environment for our workers.”
The post went on to say, “The police and farmers [sic] market staff are either unable to [sic] willing to address the problem.”
The owner told KXAN its employees were seeing an increasing number of situations in which they felt unsafe during the Saturday market, including an instance in which one employee was grabbed by someone who he believes was homeless.
Round Rock Honey Company said it would still be a part of the Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller.
The announcement came a couple of weeks after a stabbing at Republic Square.
Still, SFC Farmers’ Market Operations Manager Ben Hasan told KXAN, “This is the first time we’ve heard of somebody saying, ‘This impacts my business such that I think I need to leave.'”
Hasan says SFC doesn’t want other vendors or customers to feel unsafe. He says SFC has begun training its staff to respond to tense situations. He says several employees have gone through Integral Care’s Mental Health First Aid training. He says SFC has also worked with the downtown Austin alliance and even the Austin Public Library to come up with de-escalation techniques.
“A lot of times, a situation is just like as easy as, ‘Hey, I’m the market manager. What’s going on? Like, how’s it going? Oh, thanks for telling me your story. You want to talk over here? Can I get you a coffee or a taco or something like that?’ And that’s kind of all it takes to bring a panhandler, militant vegan, somebody else down from like a, ‘We’re at odds,’ to, ‘We’ll work together here…this is a public space,'” Hasan said.
Hasan added that he feels the market has a good working relationship with police.
“APD keeps a presence within, like, a block or two radius of the park anytime there’s an event, and they have been, had a real swift response any time we’ve needed to call,” he said.
Hasan says it’s important to balance safety concerns with the fact that Republic Square is a public place.
“If all that somebody’s doing is sleeping in the park, and we’ve woken them up because we’re the ones who are there at 5 o’clock rattling heavy equipment around, we recognize that we’re a temporary event in this space. And, so, I’m not trying to come in and tell somebody, ‘You’re not welcome here,’ unless it comes down to an issue of safety and security,” Hasan said.
Hasan says the market hasn’t had any major security issues in the past year.
In a statement, Mayor Adler responded to the concerns, saying:
“Facts are important. Austin is the 4th safest large city in the country (closer to no. 1 than no. 5) and we remain fiercely committed to keeping our city safe. We are also committed to solving homelessness in our city. Remember people experiencing homelessness are more likely to be the victim of violent crime than to commit it.
“Many people, including myself, really enjoy the SFC Farmer’s Market, a safe and popular part of Austin’s unique spirit. Except for one vendor, I’ve not heard of any safety concerns and am following up with this vendor to learn more. I remain supportive of APD’s increased police presence in the downtown area – similar to successful efforts carried out a year ago.”