Homeless population in West Campus pose threat to UT students

Alexandra Triolo

At 2 p.m. on November 19, as I was surrounded by fellow University students, a homeless woman on Guadalupe randomly attacked me. I had no affiliation with her, and I had not provoked her in any way; the attack was completely random. After calling the police, I realized that neither APD nor UTPD were prominently stationed on Guadalupe to be able to protect students from the potential threat of problematic individuals. I was so shocked by this scenario that I didn't even file a police report. I, therefore, pose these questions of safety: How well are students protected during their inevitable interaction with this area? Have homeless people threatened or attacked other students? Have students ever felt uncomfortable or unsafe on Guadalupe?

The University of Texas at Austin is known for its top-notch academics, powerhouse athletics and iconic hand signal. But, when relishing in the positives of this esteemed University, students rarely pause to consider the dangers of Guadalupe and the fact that the University does not have any control over this unavoidable area. From picking up your books at the Co-op to making the inevitable trek back to your West Campus apartment, Guadalupe serves almost as many students as the campus itself. Beside high student foot traffic, Guadalupe is also a large gathering ground for many individuals of the Austin homeless community, who loiter the street and find themselves in confrontation with UT students.

On campus, students are relatively safe, considering the diligence and proactivity of the UT police system. However, once students cross the invisible border between campus and Guadalupe, they often forget that UTPD does not have jurisdiction over this somewhat questionable area. West Campus and Guadalupe are under the jurisdiction of the Austin Police Department, because this area is part of the city of Austin. UTPD can help patrol this area, but they cannot act upon the crimes that occur. Despite the police presence on Guadalupe, it simply doesn’t seem to be enough to prevent crime from occurring in this high-traffic area.  

“The homeless population [on Guadalupe] is a threat to student safety,” said geography sophomore Emily Tally. “There needs to be a policy of no loitering or sitting and sleeping on ‘Guad,’ for any extended period of time.”

Even though a policy similar to Tally’s suggestion is in place, Austin Police Department Lieutenant Tyson McGowan said that officers have to give sleeping or loitering individuals 30 minutes to move locations. Even if these individuals only move one inch, it is still considered moving, and they are technically in a new spot. Once again, officers must approach them to move and allow the 30-minute time frame, and this process can repeat itself for eternity. McGowan stated that the officers “don’t have time” to deal with this merry-go-round. It is clear this policy definitely needs some modifications. 

But mechanical engineering junior Trenton Makare had a different take on the issue. “I’ve never felt threatened by the homeless personally, but my girlfriend has needed me to back people off of her.”

Concerning the University’s jurisdiction over Guadalupe, Joshua Cook, assistant director of the Office of Student Affairs, said, “Our main goal is keeping students safe. We offer safety training to all staff and students.” However, Cook said, “We do not have jurisdiction or control over Guadalupe Street or any area off campus.”

When asked if UTPD would ever be able to gain jurisdiction of the drag area from APD, McGowan said, “We’ve talked about it before, but it’s a matter of possibility.” He explained that the issues APD are forced to confront on Guadalupe and in West Campus are the result of city ordinances that UTPD does not have the right to enforce. Though UTPD can respond to crimes off campus, the area off campus it is not technically their jurisdiction, and they must cede jurisdiction to APD. However, he stated that both police teams heavily work together to patrol Guadalupe in the best way that they can, often times on bikes. McGowan said for APD, manpower is an issue in West Campus.

“The obstacle APD faces is that Guadalupe Street is a revolving door,” McGowan said. “It is not illegal to be homeless. We can only enforce city ordinances such as sleeping on the sidewalk in a no-sleeping zone or creating a public disturbance. Once a citation is given to the offending individual, nothing is stopping them from coming back the next day and doing it all over again. There are many quality-of-life issues in Austin; after all, we live in a big city. I wish there was some way we could clean up all of Austin, but a utopia is just not possible.”

Students have tried to set up programs to help each other navigate off-campus areas in a safer way. Sure Walk, for example, is a service established by Student Government that escorts students through areas of campus at night. 

Ultimately, though there are many students who are comfortable on Guadalupe, many feel the need for greater West-Campus security. It is up to students to advocate for change through the induction of new policies in order to create a safe college experience for all students — both now and in the future.

Triolo is a journalism freshman from Hollister, California.