Downtown beset by homeless harassment

Photo: Wandering around the Heritage District, Mick is one of the many homeless people who are causing concern among those who own property in the area. Mick says he sleeps on the porch of a vacant house in Irving. /Photo by John Starkey

Music venues, restaurants, bakeries, boutiques and specialty shops create a unique flavor to downtown Irving. These are not simply a collection of random businesses that dropped from the sky onto Main Street. Each business represents years of hard work and dreams by the owners and their families as well as, more often than not, significant investment or bank debt.

An alarming trend has been gaining momentum in the downtown area. Homeless people, who have no interest in the area or the people trying to make a living there, have begun intimidating customers, littering the area and stealing from businesses.

“If we don’t do something now, I feel like it’s going to escalate and it’s really going to damage the economic development potential in this area,” Jo Ann Goin, owner of Irving’s downtown Glory House Catering Company, said. “The redevelopment has been very important to the City of Irving.”

She was rather buoyant when she noticed a surge of economic progress in the Heritage Crossing area where Glory House, her lunch bistro, is located. In the 15 years that she’s been at her current location, 109 S. Main Street, she said the promise of revitalization has been something she has long awaited. Yet, she reports that of late, customers often say they are uncomfortable because of homeless people in the area, including a recent one who was right outside Glory House.

“Will you walk me to my car?” they often ask her after they finish their buffet meals.

“It’s only been an issue over the last couple of years,” Goin said. According to her, the problem increased when Dallas recently closed a tent community. As she explained it, many homeless people come on public transit, and some then walk across the downtown streets and cluster on Main Street or at Heritage Park.

The Downtown Irving/Heritage Crossing Station is about a quarter of a mile from her venue. DART buses and the Trinity Railway Express train deposit and pick up riders there. The park is less than a quarter mile in the other direction. In that one mile corridor, Goin has seen homeless people having fist fights, using the city’s resources, creating unsanitary conditions, engaging in public displays of affection, leaving their belongings, and creating a safety threat. She had to ask a homeless man to leave her outdoor premises during the week of Thanksgiving. She also threatened to call the police. It was not the first time.

She found a possible solution that could help her and other business owners. The City of Irving Police Department gave her an affidavit that can be filed for criminal trespass. They also gave her a sign that she can post in her window. The signage indicates that the place is private property, and that the force of law might be used against those who trespass. Goin intends to post the sign in her window after laminating it.

Public Information Officer James McLellan with the Irving Police Department, said there is a Standard Operating Procedure for patrol officers to follow when businesses complain of a criminal trespass.

“A business owner or employee at a business that is open to the public may have to initiate a call/complaint for trespassing with the police department if they want someone to leave their premises,” McLellan said. “The first police response to a particular person who a business has complained about may be a verbal warning, which includes the request that they leave the premises. If a person who has been given a criminal trespass warning by an officer returns to the same business or refuses to leave, the police department may escalate their actions.”

Goin is not without compassion for those who have fallen on hard times. On Tuesdays she donates bistro food to an area church and they transport it to a homeless shelter in Dallas where it is distributed. She is also involved in other philanthropic endeavors. The business owner said it’s heartbreaking to see how economic downturns have affected many people in the last eight years.

At the same time, the owner of Blue Ribbon Winner of the National Small Business of the Year award for eight years running said she stands ready to circulate the affidavit and signage to other businesses, and to attend the community service meeting.

Goin would love to see the City of Irving pray about the problem and seek a solution. She wants a protocol in place that can help homeless people without hurting businesses in the process.

Mil Canava, owner of On the Boulevard Gifts, Antiques & Collectibles, has concerns as well. Canava, who has been owner at the 142 W. Irving Boulevard location for a year, did not know there was a homeless problem when she was considering buying the business. She has had problems with homeless people defecating on her property, leaving bags and other property on the premises and pan-handling. She has filed a criminal trespass complaint with the police department 7-8 times, and had an incident of shoplifting by homeless people.

The shop owner reported that homeless people have hung out on her patio, and that she has found suitcases, trash and beer cans there. She recalled seeing the homeless in alleys and behind businesses in the vicinity. Her idea is that police should patrol those areas a little bit more. In her shop are two other female vendors and a male vendor that also sell their wares.

Canava reported that she wanted to be a part of downtown Irving and to help it grow. She used the word “potential” to describe the possibilities she sees for the area. She explained that they not only want people in Irving to come and do business with them, but want to attract other Texans as well.