AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - Homelessness continues to be one of Austin’s biggest challenges and one area that has been continually impacted is the Red River Cultural District. That is also where a large number of SXSW events will take place over the next week and a half.
“As old wisdom goes, don't go walking down dark alleys unless you expect something dangerous to happen,” said Cody Cowan, executive director of the Red River Cultural District.
However, when it comes to Red River Street, even during the day there are crimes being committed in the alley leading from the ARCH to Waller Creek. Business owners witness drug deals, prostitution and human waste outside of their venues on a daily basis. “So there's a lot more fights, a lot more stabbings, and those sorts of things within that community,” Cowan said.
Cowan believes criminals often take advantage of Austin’s most vulnerable population, and the impact that has had is obvious to those who frequent music venues on Red River.
“Homelessness seems to be increasing every month down here in Austin, and the services have kind of stayed status quo,” said Cowan.
He explained how business owners in the neighborhood have been waiting for a long time for the city to provide additional resources so service providers can help get more people into housing. “These are human beings on the street, they're somebody's son or daughter, they're somebody's brother or sister, we have to do better,” Cowan said.
Those who work nearby hope that happens before they lose any more customers too afraid to visit the district. “On a nightly basis, it is a concern. I mean, there's a lot of alarming things. There's a level of aggression and violence for those folks who are addicts or mentally ill,” said Cowan.
"I'm concerned about the homelessness challenge that we have in this city, not only for the people who are homeless, but also for the impact that it has for surrounding businesses, and tourists and festivals that we have in this city," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said last month.
Cowan doesn't believe the issue will drive away any SXSW events this year, but it also doesn't make it any easier for businesses to survive in an already difficult market. “It's certainly an inconvenience to have that sort of element of danger from a business perspective,” said Cowan.
He believes increasing access to mental health and addiction treatment, as well as adding shelters, would be a good start. “That creates a safer environment both for our homeless neighbors as well as for all the merchants down here,” Cowan said.
Red River business owners said police have stepped up patrols in the area over the last few months. Still, according to crimereports.com, the majority of crimes that occurred in Austin this year are in three locations: the Red River Cultural District, 6th Street Entertainment District and the area surrounding the ARCH.