Missionary Terry Cole worked with impoverished tribes in Latin America and Africa learning about the struggles of prostitutes and playing with children from villages. But eventually, Cole realized there was no need to travel to third-world nations to help society’s outcasts.
“I was shocked to discover I did not need to go to Africa or a village in the middle of the mountains of Mexico because I also found looked-down-on groups right here in Austin,” Cole said. “In one of the wealthiest, most influential cities in Texas.”
Cole started volunteering at the University Presbyterian Church in 2003, taking time from his day job as an electrical engineer to feed the homeless community. In 2008, Cole said he felt God’s calling to work full-time as a missionary and created Street Youth Ministry, an organization dedicated to street-dependent youth near West Campus.
Street Youth Ministry provides food, job training, showers and clothing for 80–100 homeless people near the West Campus area every week with support from the Covenant Presbyterian Church.
“The street youth are lovely and powerful and beautiful, strong people,” Cole said. “They need acceptance, someone to talk to, and they should not feel isolated.”
Cole said most of the homeless people he works with grew up in foster care, an environment that he thinks is worse than their life on the streets.
He said counseling and mental health services should be available post-foster care, citing the case of Meechaiel Creiner, the homeless man arrested in connection with Haruka Weiser’s murder, as a clear example of the need for these services.
“When I think about the young man that was so confused and so damaged that he decided to take Haruka’s life, I would’ve liked if he could’ve reach out for help,” Cole said. “Maybe that could’ve made a difference.”
Since Weiser’s death, police cars are usually parked outside the organization’s events. As a result, attendance to Bible study, food pantries and other events has decreased.
“They’re afraid of being harassed, of being criminalized for being homeless,” Cole said. “But there’s always a human side to the ‘drag rat.’ We’re being their much-needed adult foster parent, using faith as our resource.”