Dante Williams opened his second Fort Worth business a few months ago: Blank Space, a space for neighbors to make memories.
“You can have a wedding here, a celebration…” Williams said as he walks through three adjoining rooms.
But he’s also been getting some unwanted attention.
“We’ve had homeless camps set up kind of in the back of the building,” Williams said, adding that people even took patches of turf from his backyard.
He shared security camera footage that showed three incidents within the past month: Someone taking a light off the front of his building, then another light in the back, and, early Saturday morning, someone defecating in front of one of his doors.
“Been cussed out, talked to pretty crazy,” Williams added.
He said he’s had more incidents in the past month than in the past three years he’s operated in the area, and he’s not alone.
“A lot of our small businesses, particularly retail and restaurant businesses, are telling us that homelessness is having a negative impact on their business,” said Steven Montgomery, president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.
Montgomery said they frequently survey hundreds of businesses.
“We noticed an uptick in the responses that homelessness was coming up as a larger and larger issue impacting businesses,” he said. “It’s trended up, I would say, over the last several months.”
He said it’s one of the top three biggest issues that small businesses, in particular, are facing.
His team is now compiling that data to present to their board and city council members to come up with– and be a part of– solutions.
“Is there other public policy issues? Are there investment needs that need to be done in the community in order to address homelessness affordable housing? Those types of things,” he said.
Those are the types of solutions Williams wants to see, too– especially as co-founder of a nonprofit that works with the homeless community.
“Calling the police to give them a ticket, and you have to try to figure out a way to pay for the ticket, or they get arrested, we just don’t view that as a right help for the community,” Williams said.
So that those neighbors can also get a chance to make memories.
“We like to build relationships with all people,” he said.
Montgomery said the Chamber plans to present their data to city council in the new year.