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South Austin business owner pleads for help after uptick in attacks from homeless encampment

The owner of Headspace Salon said it usually takes Austin police over an hour to arrive, even though the attacks are still active.

AUSTIN, Texas — A South Austin business owner says aggressive people experiencing homelessness and slow police response times make it hard to keep the business open. 

Laura North, the owner of Headspace Salon and Co-op, is calling for Austin police to respond quicker to active attacks and asking the City of Austin to move faster in finding housing for the homeless. 

"I wanted to still have a heartbeat in South Austin and kind of keep old Austin alive," North said.

In 2019, North opened Headspace Salon and Co-op, making sure the inside embodied the warmth of Austin. But it's what's outside the business that North has grown cold toward.

"We have men hiding in the bushes waiting for us to leave work at night," North said. "We've been threatened with rape, with murder." 

There's a large homeless camp next to the salon, with tents scattered under the highway near Ben White Boulevard and Pack Saddle Pass.

North said some of the people living there have gotten extremely aggressive. 

"[One man] took giant rocks and smashed our plumbing cleanout lines, just started smashing them to smithereens," North said. "He was throwing rocks at clients, at staff."

The latest attack was caught on camera on Monday. You can see a man pull a pole out of the ground, walk over to the salon and act as if he is going to smash the window. 

"We'll call them 15 to 20 times before police arrive," North said. "At that time, we kind of just barricade ourselves inside and just hope that they show up before something really bad happens."

The Austin Police Department told KVUE that officers responded to a "trespass urgent" call in the area of Pack Saddle Pass on Jan. 19. Police said the call came in at 5:17 p.m. and, once on scene, officers issued a "criminal trespass notice." The investigation remains ongoing.

North said it usually takes Austin police over an hour to arrive, even though the attacks are still active. 

"We have known that this area has a big challenge," said Ryan Alter, Austin City Council member for District 5.

Alter is the councilmember for this area. He said the Texas Department of Transportation cleans this camp frequently, but it quickly returns. 

He said he's made creating an improved housing plan his top priority.

"Let's actually have a safe place where you can not only be but [also] receive services to actually start putting yourself on a path to housing," Alter said.

It's a promise that North has heard from City leaders since day one. Right now, she is just hoping for quicker response times from APD, at the least. 

"It's gotten so violent and unsafe for all of us that we just need police support," North said. "Honestly, if it's going to carry on this way, I would just feel a lot better knowing that there was 24/7 police support around here where they would show up in five minutes, opposed to an hour." 

North said she's lost clients and employees, and she fears her business is next. 

"I don't feel safe here," she said. "I don't feel safe asking other people to show up to work here. I feel bad for clients that have to experience [this], and if something's not done, then we'll have to make a really hard choice." 

Austin's Homeless Strategy Division spokesperson didn't tell KVUE if there's a specific plan to relocate people from this particular camp. However, the spokesperson said since 2021, the City has moved nearly 500 unhoused people from camps to local bridge shelters and permanent housing.

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