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Pushing Haven option, Council mulls more restrictions on homeless residents

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

55-year-old homeless resident Kenneth Smith at Prospects Courtyard.

Others insisted aggressive panhandling is increasing. According to Municipal Court records, the city citations for such behavior remained relatively flat over the past three fiscal years, with 351 last year. But since the start of this fiscal year last month, the city has already issued 41 citations for aggressive panhandling.

“I’ve had people come up and say, ‘Hey, I need your shoes, gimme your shoes,’” said District 8 Councilman Reed Williams. “It’s crazy, but it’s happened.” Looking out to Marco Barros, CEO of the San Antonio Area Tourism Council and a major proponent of the ordinance, Williams said, “Your folks need some relief. We’ve got some tremendous trouble.”

After Council’s meeting, I spoke with Olga Kucerak, who lives at the Majestic Towers downtown. She spoke of panhandlers preying on downtown tourists, residents, and business owners. “Sometimes they’re aggressive, intimidating, name calling, spitting. … We’re not talking about homeless just wanting food. We see intimidation, violence,” she claimed, saying she carries Mace in her purse. When pressed for an example of such violence, she said, “This homeless man followed me for nearly a block and called me names. … Why should I have to worry about carrying Mace?” and referenced a YouTube video that reportedly shows two homeless men fighting on the River Walk.

In a common refrain for anyone who wants something done in this town, Kucerak insisted cracking down on panhandling is key to Mayor Julian Castro’s “Decade of Downtown”: “For the ‘Decade of Downtown’, people have got to feel safe.”

Safety. It’s the primary concern for many of those stuck on the streets or in shelters.

Kenneth Smith, sitting in Prospects last week, told me he sometimes roams downtown, looking for well-lit, populated areas. “You gotta be careful not to talk to the wrong person or the wrong crowd,” he said. “Sometimes I’d rather stay moving. … Walk to a restaurant and ask for some food or wait in a parking lot.”

He was increasingly nervous with dusk approaching, telling me, “When you leave here, people are gonna start fighting. I see some guys slappin’ the hell out of their women. I hate it. … I can’t be the middle man and go stop that, it’ll put me in danger.” His eyes darted back and forth. “I pipe up, and some guys just stare me down, threaten me. They say, ‘Fuck you, old school.’”

“I just live one day at a time.” •

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