Students should find ways to help the homeless community while exercising caution

With new students arriving from across the world to Austin, the high number of homeless men and women in the downtown Austin area may be surprising to some students. According to the City of Austin, there are more than 2,300 people sleeping in shelters, cars or on the street on any given night in Austin. This number means there are endless opportunities for students to get involved while remaining cautious and mindful of their surroundings. UT has several organizations for student volunteers as well.

Design freshman Anna Brink came to Austin for mission trips in high school,  but she was still suprised by the amount of homelessness near campus.

“For a college campus, I was surprised at how many homeless people there are,” Brink said. “Even around the Drag, there are a lot of people with shopping carts carrying their belongings.”

Lieutenant Gary Hanna of the Austin Police Department suggests the “Hide it, Lock it, Keep it” system seen on signs in parking garages around Austin in case students are concerned about securing their belongings. Hanna said students shouldn’t have issues with theft if they keep their valuables out of plain sight and lock their car and apartment. 

“You would be surprised at how many students don’t lock their doors,” Hanna said. “[Some] people will just check doorknobs and walk in. Many students come from areas of little crime and become easy targets because they are naive.” 

If students are nervous about this, Hanna stresses overall awareness of your surroundings, much like his general advice for UT students.

“I have two cousins that are students at UT,” Hanna said. “I give them the same advice I give any student: Don’t walk alone in the dark, and stay with friends in a lit, public area.” 

The high number of homeless people also means we have a responsibility to help those in need. Hanna said giving directly to individuals may not be as helpful as contributing time, resources or money to volunteer services. Instead of money, water bottles, granola bars or bagged lunches can help those who need  assistance. Additionally, there are two student-led organizations on campus that help the homeless, Hunger and Homelessness Outreach and Breakfast For the Homeless. Both of these organizations are on HornsLink, with opportunities for volunteers to join.

The Homelessness Management Information System reports that homelessness has declined by an average of 6 percent annually since 2011, and UT students can contribute to this change by volunteering their time and energy. With the dozens of organizations and churches around Austin dedicated to helping the homeless community, and more than 51,000 students on campus, the idea of everyone in Austin having a home seems more and more realistic.

Mary McFadden is a journalism freshman. She is a guest columnist.