Homeless man encourages openmindedness

Elena Mejia

When he wakes up in his sleeping bag on a side walk between 21st and 26th Streets on Guadalupe, Bobby’s first thought is where he’ll get coffee. While he waits for outreach programs to open their doors, he visits the PCL, admiring the collection of books about religious studies.

“I’ve never really seen the students read the books over there,” Bobby said. “They’re usually with laptops and phones, and they have the best collection of books I’ve ever seen in front of them.”

Three months ago, Bobby planned to travel from Florida to Portland to finish his degree in music. As he hitchhiked through the southern states to avoid the Chicago blizzards, he stopped in Austin. The vibrant culture persuaded him to stay, and he started exploring life on the West Campus streets.

Street Youth Ministry, a mission program to help homeless individuals in West Campus, holds daily events to provide food, Bible studies, job training and clothing. Currently, Bobby is putting together a series of classes to teach Hebrew studies to the program’s attendees.

Bobby received a grant to take classes at ACC during the summer. Next fall, he wishes to attend UT to study biology and religious studies.

“I’ll be looking at scholarships, grants and loans,” he said. “I have medical issues and other things I can probably investigate scholarships for.”

Cholesteatoma, an abnormal growth in Bobby’s middle ear, resulted in the removal of his right-side hearing organs, making him half-deaf. The skin growth caused facial muscle paralysis, a rare side effect of the condition.

A Change.org petition has been circling Facebook since March calling to “Keep Guadalupe streets safe for UT Austin students” by relocating the homeless community from West Campus. As of Wednesday night, it has garnered 2,989 signatures online. Bobby said he understands the fear toward people on the street, but said there are other ways to address the issue.

“The answer is to encourage communication and positive relations between people of different lifestyles so that we can all understand each other,” Bobby said. “We need to make sure we don’t close our minds and continue to give people a chance. You’ll find there’s good people.”