Chaos in Irving’s Heritage District started promptly upon The Dallas Express’ arrival earlier this week to investigate reports of a crime problem exacerbated by a large vagrant population.

DX’s investigation was briefly delayed when local shopkeepers phoned police about several suspicious bags that had been placed by a man near park trashcans and other areas on Main Street, concerned that they might contain drugs or even explosives.

Police arrived around 9:15 a.m., according to Melody McCallum, a local hairdresser who placed the call. Police chatted with her for a moment and left without pursuing further action.

The man who placed the packages circled the area on foot and by vehicle for over an hour as several of the parcels were collected by the homeless. It remains unclear what was contained within the bags.

This episode was only the latest in a years-long struggle by small business owners who feel their safety is imperiled.

For McCallum, the vagrancy problem could no longer be ignored after an incident in January 2015 when a man jumped out from behind a beam near the former location of the old water tower and tried to grab her. It was in the early morning, just before her salon opened, she told DX, when the man approached her from behind with his hood pulled up and his arms extended.

She attributes the fact that she sensed him behind her and that she had started carrying a gun only four days before to the Holy Spirit. McCallum, quite petite, said she repelled the 6-foot 8-inch man by drawing her firearm and pointing it directly at him. She said she called the police but was told they could not do anything because the man had not touched her.

Eleven days later, a woman was stabbed from behind with a screwdriver by 32-year-old Phillip Roberts at 24 Hour Fitness in Irving, according to NBC 5 DFW. This attack was widely reported as a random act of violence. Seeing the perpetrator of this crime on a news broadcast, McCallum recognized him as her own attacker. “It was the same man,” she said.

Roberts was to be charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after the incident. Still, according to McCallum, he was back out on the streets by as early as 2018 and has continued to bother her.

On a rainy Tuesday in January 2020, McCallum claims Roberts appeared at her salon’s window, staring at her through the blinds, nodding and pointing at her as she and her customers looked on in terror.

These early incidents were merely the prelude to a growing problem that locals said has become exponentially over the last three years. Every business owner DX spoke to said they have seen instances of violence, drug dealing, and theft by the homeless increase drastically since around 2021.

“There was one guy who broke our windows six times before the police finally apprehended him and he was released and did it two more times,” said Flo Barnes, a booth owner at a local antique mall. She also told DX of a man who screamed profanities at women from the street corner and fist fights on the road that were so loud they could be heard inside the shop. McCallum, whose beauty shop is about two blocks away, said she had witnessed such incidents as well.

Barnes did note that she had seen one older homeless woman who would go around picking up garbage left on the sidewalks by other homeless people in the area. But the woman’s efforts were just a drop in the bucket.

The antique mall where Barnes has her booth cannot leave anything unlocked at night for fear of theft, she said, and homeless people have come in while she was working the counter and screamed nonsense.

“As a female, I don’t like working alone,” she said. This sentiment was universally shared by the half-dozen female shop owners and staff DX spoke to across the district. Often, these women told DX, they rely on their husbands to protect them and escort them to work.

Dr. Nikisha McDaniel, a chiropractor on Main Street, has had an issue with homeless people sleeping against her front door. At first, McDaniel tolerated it. However, very quickly, her packages started going missing. Then, human excrement piled up on her porch.

“It was a biohazard my staff should not have to deal with,” the doctor said.

Finally, she reached her wits’ end when she placed security cameras on her porch and saw that “things were being exchanged.”

DX asked if she thought the things being exchanged were drugs. “I do not know,” she said. She quickly informed the person on her porch that she would enforce a “trespass [notice]” if the individual continued to sleep on her property. The homeless person left.

Each business owner told DX that they believed the homeless were drawn to the area by individuals and religious groups that feed them on the street and infrastructure like power outlets in the park that the homeless use to charge their cell phones. Typically, DX was told, they come in waves out of the nearby bus depot/train station and sometimes out of an unmarked van.

Homelessness has become a major issue in Irving’s ongoing city council election. The race between Luis Canosa and Susan Motley for Irving City Council Place 4 has made a proposed plan to build a homeless shelter in Irving a major point of contention between the two campaigns. Plans to build the shelter have been subordinated to an informal tentative earmark deal that is currently set to direct a large federal grant to revive a domestic violence shelter project in Irving.

The results of the election could finally and formally decide this issue.

“If the homeless shelter had been approved, Irving would be on a path to seeing a big surge in homelessness,” Canosa said in an interview with The Dallas Express.

“The fact that my opponent considers it a ‘shame’ that building a homeless shelter in Irving was defeated by just one vote proves that she is out of touch with the residents of District 4,” he added, referring to a prior attempt at getting such a project off the ground.

“Families move to Irving instead of Dallas because the magnitude of certain problems is much smaller in the suburbs,” Canosa pointed out. “It doesn’t make sense for Irving to use its limited resources to open a homeless shelter so costly that the $3 million [Department of Housing and Urban Development] grant would disappear like a drop in the bucket and leave the taxpayers holding the bag.”

He also warned that homeless shelters attract various forms of social decay.

“We need to use law enforcement to arrest criminals dealing drugs and to restrict panhandling in areas where it is unsafe to do so. We don’t need to invest tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to put in place ineffective programs that will just serve as magnets for the homeless of Dallas,” he added.

Certainly, one of these most pronounced issues in Dallas is homelessness. Polling has suggested that more than three-fourths of Dallas residents are dissatisfied with the state of vagrancy and panhandling in the city. Respondents also indicated their support for a “one-stop-shop” model of homeless services like in downtown San Antonio, where Haven for Hope has reportedly reduced unsheltered homelessness.

Motley supports several types of homeless shelters, according to The Dallas Morning News.

We asked McDaniel what she thought of the possible construction of a homeless shelter in Irving. She was measured in her reply.

“I honestly don’t think a homeless shelter will help them much. When given the option, they don’t choose to go there,” the doctor said, explaining that she had been told as much by homeless people with whom she’d had conversations. “Our funds should go into clean up and managing criminal behavior.”

“I think a domestic violence shelter would be better suited [for Irving’s needs],” she added.

She also suggested there should be “a city committee to deal with these things like cleanup” because she feels existent resources are almost exclusively for the homeless themselves and not for the housed people contending with the challenges that come from having a large homeless population in the areas where they work or live.

McCallum categorically opposed the building of the shelter.

“It will only bring in more crime, drugs, and homelessness,” she began, before being interrupted by other women in the beauty shop who unanimously agreed and repeated her sentiments.

Irving PD was contacted for comment on the crime in Old Town but did not respond.

Early voting in the Irving City Council race began on June 3 and continues through June 11. Election day is Saturday, June 15.