Homeless individuals seek warmth in campus buildings in freezing temperatures

Julia Brouillette

On freezing cold days, University officials deal with slick roads, campus closures and delays, but, on freezing cold nights, it isn’t the students whom officials are concerned about.

Instead, UTPD officers get calls of homeless individuals entering campus buildings in search of warmth.

Friday night, a non-UT man was arrested after a custodian found him sleeping in the Engineering-Science Building. According to the UTPD crime log, this was the man’s ninth arrest for criminal trespassing. UTPD Lt. Gonzalo Gonzalez said the man was looking for a warm place to sleep. Since then, UTPD has reported five additional criminal trespass incidents, four of which involved individuals sleeping in campus buildings. 

Terry McMahan, assistant chief of police, said UTPD officers issue criminal trespass warnings — and occasionally arrest — individuals who are not authorized to be on the campus. McMahan said this policy follows the UT System Board of Regents Rules and Regulations.

“If they have no business here, we’re going to ask them to leave,” McMahan said. “If they‘re a student, faculty or staff, then it’s OK and we move on to something else.”

McMahan said people seeking shelter from the freezing temperatures could turn to local resource centers, such as the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. Center spokeswoman Kay Klotz said the center is always open for transient individuals.

“Everybody is able to sleep in a warm place at night if they come here, but they have to come here,” Klotz said.

According to Klotz, the Austin area has had more than 30 freezing nights so far this year. 

Once at the shelter, people are provided a place to sleep for as long as necessary, according to Klotz.

“Our goal is to get everyone into safe and stable housing, that’s what our case managers do all the time,” Klotz said. “But, until that happens, they can stay here.”

McMahan said UTPD officers do not escort people to shelters.

“We have an obligation to patrol the University of Texas campus, we don’t have an obligation to take people to the [center],” McMahan said. “We don’t have the resources to taxicab people all over the city, especially when we’ve got buses and everything else.”

While the public views the University as a public space, the regent’s rules do not allow unauthorized use of campus facilities, McMahan said.

“The University of Texas is really not public property, but we kind of treat it that way,” McMahan said. “Once somebody comes on to the campus, and they violate a regent’s rule, then that is what evokes their right to be here.”

Linguistics senior Hadley Main said the University should be more lenient when dealing with homeless people.

“For a public research institution, it is sad to me they would arrest [someone],” Main said. “We are welcoming in so many different areas.”

McMahan said UTPD officers do not tailor their response to trespassing based on whether a person is homeless and make decisions solely on individuals’ accordance with the rules and regulations of the UT System.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with whether they’re homeless or not, it has to do with whether they’re an authorized user of the facilities,” McMahan said. “The University of Texas is a very welcoming campus; we want people to come see what we’re about. But, if you’re here for foul play, we don’t want you here anymore.”