News & Politics

Austin's Homeless Policy May Be Implicated in the City’s First Murder of 2020

Austin Mayor Steve Adler defends controversial homeless policy.

On Friday morning, January 3, 2020, a man entered a coffee shop in south Austin and attacked people inside, per the Austin American-Statesman.

Officers responded at 7:49 a.m. to Bennu Coffee in the 500 block of South Congress Avenue after receiving reports about a disturbance, Austin police Sgt. David Daniels said. Stacy Romine, who lives at the Crescent apartment complex behind Bennu, said the attacker was acting erratically and assaulted a man with an unknown object.

Patrons at the coffee shop were able to temporarily detain him, police said. Romine said she grabbed a cart to try to block the man from leaving the coffee shop.

Officers pulled up to the coffee shop, but the man was able to break free and run toward Freebirds World Burrito, which is a few doors away in the same shopping center.

In Freebirds, the attack turned fatal. The man stabbed and killed Jonathan Aguilar, who had worked at the popular restaurant for eight years. Aguilar was 24, an Austin native and a father, working to make a living.

Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted about the attack over the weekend speculating that the assailant may be homeless. Mayor Steve Adler lashed out at the Texas governor for “demonizing” the city’s homeless population. Abbott was not criticizing homeless people; rather, he criticized the city’s leaders for the homeless policies they have enacted, just as he has since Austin allowed the homeless to camp out most any place they want last summer. Many around the city believe the policy has emboldened some of the homeless to become more confrontational since they no longer avoid police.

A man killed another man in cold blood in a busy restaurant, with staff, citizens and maybe some visitors on the scene. The attack happened on South Congress, one of the city’s main arteries and destinations for out-of-town visitors. Freebirds is a popular local burrito chain. A deliberate and controversial city policy may (or may not) be implicated. The killing set the city on edge Friday. Instead of focusing on any of that, the Texas Tribune takes aim at the governor who has opposed Austin’s homeless policy, for the thoughtcrime of calling that policy out.

The suspect, 27-year-old Dylan Woodburn, died Monday of injuries sustained when he jumped off a roof while attempting to elude police. And it turned out he was homeless, so Gov. Abbott had that right. Austin’s $100 million homeless policy-industrial complex may have a lot to answer for.

Austinites have blasted the city’s homeless policy on social media and talk radio since it went into effect last summer, with complaints ranging from the new blight of camps and associated garbage all over the city, to precipitating attacks and assaults perpetrated by homeless people against residents and people who work in the city. A general feeling that the city is increasingly unsafe and becoming less livable has spread. The Austin Police Association publicly opposes the policy and there is a recall effort underway to remove the mayor and some city council members. Austin’s mayor and city council have largely responded by criticizing their critics, as Adler did with Gov. Abbott in the aftermath of Friday’s killing.

Meanwhile, Austin’s 2019 homeless policy may have claimed a victim to start 2020.