Austin police, city leaders investigate homeless issue

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by JESSICA HOLLOWAY / KVUE News

khou.com

Posted on September 21, 2012 at 8:40 PM

AUSTIN -- Austin police are investigating another homeless attack, this time in North Austin.
 
It happened Thursday morning on the sidewalk in front of the Brentwood Christian Church Daycare where she's working her way through college.

Police say she was attacked by 43-year-old Edward Williamsen -- a known transient with a record of violent crime.

"She's doing well. Of course it's scary and an unfortunate situation," said Stephen Colwell with Brentwood Christian Church.

According to his arrest affidavit, Williamsen was talking to himself saying, "Get out of my head."

The student said she immediately felt threatened after getting off the bus. Williamsen then allegedly ran up behind her and hit her with a sharp object that caused two cuts to her left shoulder.
 
Police drove her around until they found Williamsen and arrested him.

Ann Howard is an advocate for the homeless. "If you go north, south, east or west, you're gonna find people looking for help. They're sleeping outside, they're asking for help, they're looking for jobs and they're looking for housing." 

This attack, along with the recent assault that killed an Austin architect, has city leaders focusing on homeless solutions city-wide, not just downtown.

Mandy Demayo is calling on voters to support Proposition 15 in the Nov. 6 bond election. The proposal would set aside $78.3 million for affordable and permanent housing for the homeless.

"It provides the stability in anybody's life where they can stabilize if they are recovering from addiction, if they're looking for a job, looking for services, you need to have a home, you need to have an address in order to do that," Demayo said. "That's ensuring those folks get off the streets and get into a supportive environment where they can succeed, where they can stabilize their lives and succeed. So they're not living downtown, so they're not clogging our shelters and treating them as permanent housing rather than the temporary housing it was meant to be."

"I've been on the street 10 years," Purvis Lewis said.

Lewis says he lived in government housing but couldn't maintain the financial responsibility. "I'm back on the street," he said.

"The reason why most people are on the streets is because of mental health and substance abuse," said Gregory Pace, who is homeless. "You'd be surprised there's people out there who have a place, who gets a check every month, but they have a substance abuse...they don't know how to use their money."

"We're tired of it. It's cutting down on the crowd. It's affecting 6th Street. They're going to West 6th Street, they're going to South Congress, they're going to East 6th, why? 'Cause they don't want to deal with this mess. It's hurting all these businesses here," said business owner Steve Smith.

"Maybe they have a mental health issue or substance abuse problem that limits their ability to be socially upward," Ben Creech said.

The student who was attacked, a University of Texas sophomore, is doing okay. She said she's fortunate she wasn't severely hurt.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell tells KVUE he acknowledges a problem, but says finding a place to move these facilities won't be easy.

A special meeting is set for Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at First United Methodist Church. Council members plan to observe the efforts being made to feed, clothe and provide services to Austin's homeless.

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