Fear must not persecute homeless community

Khadija Saifullah

Last week, UT’s community was shaken to its core. The tragic murder of UT freshman Haruka Weiser has deeply affected it. As more details are being released from officials about the tragedy, the past week has been terrifying for all UT students and faculty. There has been a distinct change in the atmosphere on campus. A SURE Walk booth stationed at the lobby of the PCL and students walking together at night are just some of these changes.

The shock that hit the University community is a natural response. No one would have seen this irreparable misfortune coming. The way we address our fear, however, is vital in the process of recovery and in ensuring that this never happens again. There has been a misdirection of the anger and grief towards the homeless population because of the homicide that hit so close to home.  

There is a petition going around aiming to remove the homeless from Guadalupe Street right in front of campus. I doubt that the signers of this petition are doing so out of hate, but rather out of fear.  

Many homeless people have been raised in unfathomable conditions and have been abused and developed psychological problems as a result. About one-third of the homeless population suffers from mental illness.

According to the Daily Mail, the suspect behind the homicide was diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, and autism and was neglected and abused throughout his childhood. Yet a study by the American Psychological Association states that mentally ill people are actually less likely to commit crimes against people or property.

The petition itself states that the tragedy highlights the need for “expanding treatment for the mentally ill, increasing rehabilitation facilities and making aid more available to those who are unable to provide for themselves.”

It is crucial that we remember that Austin’s homeless people are human beings. Instead of living in fear, which, understandably, is the reflex reaction after such a sudden and shocking tragedy, we should be proactive enough to try to alleviate their conditions in any way possible.

Several organizations, including United Muslim Relief and Humanity First, pack and distribute meals and hygiene kits monthly for the homeless, and that’s the least we can do to fill the communication gap.

As a petite female like Haruka, I can’t help but be reminded of the nightmare that happened last week every time I walk back home from campus. I can’t help but dwell upon the fact that I, too, was in the vicinity of danger as I walked home from the PCL on Sunday night. I can’t help but remind myself that it could have been me or any vulnerable woman walking home in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t help but clench my keys in my hand as I see someone suspicious watching me as I walk back from campus. As Haruka’s parents wrote in their open letter, we struggle to find meaning behind her senseless murder.

Yet when we forget that others are human beings, and when we stop treating them as such, we make the same mistake a killer made last week — we forget that human lives have value. For a University that prepares its students to change the world for the better, we are better than that.

Saifullah is a neuroscience sophomore from Dallas. Follow her on Twitter @coolstorysunao.