Home Local & In-Depth South Side forum discusses perils of street racing, homeless situation

South Side forum discusses perils of street racing, homeless situation

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A District 3 public safety forum for residents explored how the city is tackling homelessness and street racing on the South Side.

Participating in the virtual forum April 27, Police Chief William McManus expressed frustration with the rising number of calls about street racers.

More than 100 arrests relating to the unsafe operation of vehicles have been made citywide from September 2020 to mid-April 2021, according to police.

District 3 accounted for 38 calls about street racers.

Reports can range from two autos in a speed match to large events blocking roadways with several racers.

“It seems to have escalated to a point where we are overwhelmed by some of the events, by the numbers of people who show up,” McManus said.

Brazen spectators at races have taunted or threatened responding officers, even tossing firecrackers or bottles at them.

Various San Antonio Police Department units and other local law-enforcement agencies make up a task force to discourage street-car races.

San Antonio Police is ramping up efforts to curb illegal street racing and street takeovers. One night in October 2020, 30 vehicles blocked an intersection, delaying a Fire Department crew that was headed to a reported car crash. Courtesy photo/San Antonio Fire Department

But even arrests and impounding cars have not proven a significant deterrent to the illicit roadway contests, the chief said.

Chris Benavides, the Police Department’s Traffic and Emergency Operations Section commander, said organized street racers typically call themselves “car clubs,” but are often linked to criminal activities.

Benavides and McManus said there are legitimate car clubs where members gather to show off their vehicles, but they don’t engage in illegal racing or other activities.

Outgoing Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran worried that some businesses didn’t know races occurred on their property after-hours or let them happen on site.

Benavides said officers have identified 17 suspected racing properties inside District 3, meeting with several owners of those vacant, industrial or commercial properties as a means to curb the contests between drivers.

“If you hear it, please call it in (to 911). It’s important because it continues to build up those cases of what we see and experience in District 3,” Viagran said.

Attendees also heard from Mary Jo Rodriguez, the new homeless outreach manager with the city’s Department of Human Services.

She and colleagues are meeting with unsheltered people in each council district.

“We’ve been instrumental at establishing other resources that will be helpful to the homeless population across the city,” Rodriguez said, including more aid for substance abusers.

Nancy Williams, homeless services special projects manager, and Joe VanKuiken,  a veteran who works with Human Services, also are key in the city’s attempts to help the homeless, officials said.

“Many of you have worked closely with (Williams and VanKuiken) anytime an encampment becomes a health and safety concern,” said Morjoriee White, city homeless services administrator.

Daniel Groven, the city’s homeless outreach coordinator in District 3, checks for  individuals without housing in wooded areas, parks and creekways.

“We’re working collaboratively to get certain sites cleaned up,” he said. “I’m out in the area, talking with people, trying to get them services and help people relocate to more permanent housing situations when they’re willing to do it.”

South SAFFE (San Antonio Fear Free Environment) program officers patrol wooded areas, such as those around the missions, looking for homeless individuals camping in those sites. Courtesy photo/San Antonio Police Department

Williams said the city focuses on keeping clear drainage channels, where some homeless individuals camp. The city gives 48 hours notice before a cleanup.

Assistance is offered during and shortly after a camp is cleared.

The city is also bolstering its customer service system where residents and property owners may dial 311 and request an examination of a suspected encampment.

Also, the Homeless Connections Hotline at 210-207-1799 lets people experiencing homelessness discuss their circumstances and get counseling or other resources.

In addition, Viagran updated residents on building a police substation in District 3. Population and commercial growth have prompted more calls for a standalone facility.

“No location has been identified, but we are looking for an area that can be more centralized in the district,” she added.

The department’s longtime South Side substation is at 711 W. Mayfield Blvd.

eortiz@localcommunitynews.com

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