For 20 years, Diane Tribble owned a successful hair salon in Augusta, but about a month ago, she made the difficult decision to close her business, thanks to mounting problems with the city’s homeless population.
On Tuesday, Tribble, former owner of Diane & Co. located at 3128 Washington Road, was one of many local business owners who spoke about her experiences at a town hall discussion on homelessness led by Richmond County Sheriff, Richard Roundtree, who unveiled a new initiative called the Property Owner Response Team.
The initiative, which has been formed through a partnership between the RCSO, business owners, and the Superior Court, will allow officers to remove homeless people from businesses on Washington Road, between Center West Parkway and Furys Ferry Road.
“I called 911 so many times,” she said after the meeting. “There were multiple fires at a homeless encampment next door, and a gun was pulled on a Mosquito Joe technician.”
But Tribble said officers did little to address the problems at her business. Roundtree said the initiative now gives his office the authority to remove unwanted visitors from businesses without requiring their owners to press charges.
“It’s not strictly a law enforcement issue; it’s a societal issue,” he said. “We can’t criminalize homelessness.”
Instead, the Property Owner Response Team will work with Augusta’s Accountability Court, which can provide substance abuse and mental health treatment services for the homeless.
“It becomes the discretion of the court,” Roundtree said. “This is not a fix-all; we’re not sure how this is going to work.”
At the meeting, he encouraged business owners on the Washington Road corridor to sign up for the initiative, but he said he can’t guarantee his officers will respond quickly to their complaints.
“We have to prioritize calls for service,” Roundtree said.
Last year, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office received 423,000 calls for service, nearly five times the number of calls the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office received.
“If this program is successful here, we can implement it throughout Richmond County,” Roundtree said.
Tribble said while Diane & Co. Salon is closed, she had been waiting for the opportunity to share her story.
“I was devastated; my customers were no longer safe,” Tribble said.