South Austin food truck park owner frustrated with homeless camping

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Setting up tents or mattresses on private property is and has always been illegal, but a south Austin food truck park owner reached out to KXAN over the weekend and said homeless camping is a problem that keeps getting worse.

Fernando Letemendia said that over the last year or so, food trucks have been leaving St. Elmo’s Backyard on South Congress Avenue because people who are homeless keep trespassing.

A car and other items left abandoned at St. Elmo’s Backyard on S. Congress Ave. The food truck park owner says homeless people keep trespassing. (KXAN Photo/Yoojin Cho)

“We used to have 11 trailers here,” he said. “A lot of the trailers left because they can’t really operate with all these homeless people coming around, intimidating customers, throwing trash and basically just moving in.”

When KXAN went to the park Monday afternoon, we didn’t see anyone, but we saw an abandoned car, a box with clothes, a wagon and even a mattress.

Letemendia said, “All the stuff you see on the ground, I personally took it out two days ago, put it all in the dumpsters and had police come out… but they came back.”

A car and other items left abandoned at St. Elmo’s Backyard on S. Congress Ave. The food truck park owner says homeless people keep trespassing here. (KXAN Photo/Yoojin Cho)

One of the food truck owners said she’s seen people urinating, and said she’s constantly having to pick up trash because “they’re always disposing of things throughout the park.”

According to Letemendia, homeless camping has been a problem since the park first opened two and a half years ago, but it worsened significantly in recent months.

When we checked with Austin Police, they had records of officers responding to the park five times since July.

“It’s so frustrating because you don’t feel good about kicking everybody out,” Letemendia said. “These are obviously people who have mental [health] problems or whatever has happened in their life. You want to help them, but you can’t help them by letting them do the wrong thing over and over and over.”

Difficulties with catching people while they’re trespassing

Letemendia said he’s asked the homeless people to leave many times.

“The first thing I say to them is ‘did you know you’re on private property?'” he said. “They, just about every single time, they don’t care.”

He said another problem is, by the time police arrive, the homeless are gone, so police can’t take action. Also, he added, someone new shows up every time, so it’s hard for police to catch those who keep trespassing.”

APD said before they can arrest someone for criminal trespassing, there needs to be a trespass notice that’s been filed.

With the notice on file, if the trespasser returns and police see that they’ve returned, police can tell them to leave. If they refuse, officers can arrest that person.

APD said businesses and property owners can reach out to their district representatives, so they can work together to find a solution.

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