The homeless population is a familiar sight for UT students who walk along the Drag and in West Campus, but Student Government is planning an active effort to help this community.
SG is working on Assembly Resolution 20 (A.R. 20), a series of initiatives to assist the homeless in these areas and to address student safety concerns.
Gregory Ross, co-author of the resolution and chemical engineering and Plan II junior, said UT has overlooked the homeless population because it’s technically not on University property.
“UT has not prioritized helping the homeless because it is a near campus issue, not an on-campus issue,” Ross said.
Ross said there are six main points of the resolution — working with nursing faculty and students to provide free health assessments for the homeless on the drag, continuing a spirit of philanthropy within Longhorn Legislative Aides, creating a map of areas in West Campus that students feel unsafe, working with UTPD to develop a student safety module that focuses on this issue, forming a committee focused on helping the homeless on the Drag and starting a program for students to partner with nonprofits that assist the homeless.
Ross said the heart of the resolution is to promote the wellbeing of the homeless and to treat them with respect.
“I want to emphasize that through this process, we realized that we cannot just treat this as an issue of personal safety,” Ross said. “It’s far more complicated and far more of an issue about the wellbeing of the homeless population. We want to keep that in mind as a guiding light of assisting, supporting and providing resources for the homeless as the method to address student safety concerns.”
Ross said SG hopes to work with groups that assist Austin’s homeless including Lifeworks, a nonprofit aiming to increase self-sufficiency for youths and families.
Laura Poskochil, Street Outreach Program director at Lifeworks, said the organization has an array of different resources to help the homeless, such as a transitional living program for 18-21 year olds, a GED and workforce programs, psychiatric services and shelter for minors. Poskochil said addressing the homeless population around the University is an important item on their agenda.
“We have not talked extensively with Ross one on one, but we are absolutely thrilled about any support we can get across all sectors,” Poskochil said. “We look forward to working more with UT faculty and student programs. I don’t know the ins and outs of the resolution, but from my recollection of Ross’s overview, I was in full support of it.”
Rhonda Weldon, director of communications for University Operations, said in an email UTPD does not weigh in on proposed legislation but will be happy to engage in conversation with SG when its intent is made clear.
“Once the resolution is approved and SG has fully briefed the department on the program and what it needs from police in support, UTPD would be able to comment on its role,” Weldon said.
Ross said the University has tremendous resources that are juxtaposed with abject poverty.
“This is an opportunity for our students to learn and truly provide for the community in addressing one of society’s longest standing and still most pressing issues,” Ross said.