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Downtown residents express safety concerns about panhandling

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Downtown residents are asking for more officers to patrol the area to help combat aggressive panhandling.

They say they have grown more concerned about their safety downtown due to an increasing number of threatening encounters with panhandlers.

That was the topic at this afternoon's public safety commission meeting.

Several downtown residents spoke about their experiences with panhandlers and are asking for more uniformed and undercover offers downtown.

Advocates for the homeless say they're working with police and downtown groups, but there's only so much they can do to stop panhandling.

The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association recently conducted a survey of downtown residents and business owners and they say the results show that panhandling was the number one concern when it comes to the pedestrian experience downtown.

"The results we got back were pretty much unanimous all across downtown, east of Congress, West of Congress, doesn't matter where you live, you're being hassled on the streets almost every time you go out the door," said downtown resident Madge Whistler.

"Panhandling occurs, but how do you minimize it and how do you make the most of the resources your community has to offer? Is it by throwing out a quarter or a buck every time someone asks you for one? Or is it investing in the services that are going to help the folks asking get off the street," asked Mitchell Gibbs of Front Steps.

According to the downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, of the 275 people that responded to the survey 73 percent said they are concerned about their safety while walking downtown, 62 percent said they feel that panhandling issues are worse in Austin than other cities they've visited and 72 percent have experienced aggressive or threatening encounters with panhandlers.

Public safety commission members will continue to discuss this issue at their meeting in January.

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