Two Years Ago a Homeless Man Pulled a Knife on Me
We still haven’t figured out how to help him and others experiencing homelessness
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Edward McIntosh was arrested for assault with injury after an unprovoked attack on a young woman on 6th Street in downtown Austin, Texas. He hit her in the face and knocked her to the ground, according to the Austin Police Department. a few weeks prior to that, he confronted me and four members of my writing group with a large knife outside the Austin Recreation Center.
I was facing the others with my back to him as he approached us, but I clearly heard his guttural challenge, “Are you going to keep f***ing with me?”
I’m a trained martial artist and a psychotherapist. I slowly turned to face him as I stepped down off the curb to be slightly further from him. I answered him in my most compassionate voice, “No baby, we don’t want to keep f****ing with you.”
I stared down at the foot long knife he held across his stomach.
The moonlight glinting from it made the knife clearly visible. We stood and looked at one another for a moment that seemed like forever. Then he turned and went back up the stairs to lay on a bench at the entrance to the Austin Recreation Center.
My male friends stayed for the police, while I drove shakily home. The police came. They ascertained that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenic and was off of his meds. They did nothing.
A few weeks later he walked up to the young woman in downtown Austin and struck her in the face, knocking her to the ground. That’s when he was arrested.
His sister, Janet McIntosh, in an interview with CBS Austin on September 13, 2019, blamed her brother’s situation on the Austin City Council revoking the laws against camping in Austin in July of 2019. Janet says he decided to leave the group home where he lived in Lockhart, Texas, to go to Austin, where he would be allowed to sleep anywhere in public spaces. She reports, “He said, ‘I’m going to live at the ARCH. I’m going to live in downtown Austin, you can camp out anywhere you want to in Austin.’” She couldn’t convince him he was better off in his group home, close to family.
The ARCH is the Austin Resouce Center for the Homeless. It’s managed by First Steps, and is located one street away from where he attacked the young woman. It’s only a few blocks away from the Austin Recreation Center where he pulled a knife on me.
It provides temporary shelter, resources to obtain housing, recuperative medical care and supportive services. A quote from their website states, “Our vision is that no person in our community should ever have to spend the night on the streets.”
Unfortunately, while Edward McIntosh must have hung out there, he was sleeping on the streets when I encountered him. Technically, he was sleeping on a bench at the entrance to the Austin Recreation Center, where my writing group met at the time, but it was out in the open.
His sister blames the Austin ordinance allowing camping in all public places, plus the lack of affordable housing for the mentally ill, for his leaving his group home and choosing to live on the streets of Austin.
I don’t take sides in the debate and upcoming vote on May 1st to reinstate the law against camping and aggressive panhandling. Edward McIntosh wasn’t aggressively panhandling when he pulled a knife on me or attacked another woman. He was delusional and trying to survive on the streets.
Decriminalizing homelessness in Austin and in all other cities in the U.S., is an important step in handling the homelessness issue. It was done in the first place here to free up the police to focus on more serious crimes, and to keep those experiencing homelessness out of the jails simply for having no place to sleep.
In the case of Edward McIntosh however, decriminalization and a lack of resources for the mentally ill led to his remaining on the streets after he threatened me with a knife. Allowing camping in public spaces may have brought him to Austin to sleep on the streets rather than remain in his group home, as his sister states. Lack of resources and decriminalization allowed another woman to be attacked and injured after he pulled a knife on me.
I didn’t want him to go to jail, but I did want him to get help. Preferably before he attacked someone else.
We need better solutions.