RISE ATX will combat homelessness and panhandling in West Campus and other Austin areas

Anna Lassmann

Last Thursday, SafeHorns attended the first stakeholder meeting about a potential program to give panhandlers and the homeless a second chance.

Austin residents could give feedback on the Residents in Search of Empowerment ATX pilot program, which would be led by Austin City Council member Ellen Troxclair.

The pilot program focuses on a partnership between the city and nonprofits that would conduct mobile outreach to panhandlers and the homeless by offering them cash for day labor jobs such as beautification projects, a press release said.

RISE ATX was inspired by There’s a Better Way, a similar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“With the rise of homelessness and panhandling in Austin in recent years, this proven, effective program offers the dignity and empowerment of work,” Troxclair said in a press release. “They’ll be offered work, given a sack lunch, have cash in their pockets at the end of the day and get connected with services and organizations that can help get them back on their feet. This is one way we can give them a hand up, not a hand out.”

SafeHorns, a nonprofit advocating for safety on and around the UT campus, is advocating for RISE ATX with hopes to get part of the pilot program implemented in West Campus.

SafeHorns Vice President Joell McNew said there is a huge concern about the transient and homeless population in West Campus and their effects on student safety.

“Ideally, what would be great is that rather than soliciting students, (the homeless) went out and would be working and earning minimum wage and be on the track to getting out of their (current) situation where they need to be in West Campus soliciting (from students),” McNew said.

The original resolution was passed by the Austin City Council on Aug. 31, 2017. The resolution originally requested city staff to bring the pilot program back to City Council for approval on Jan. 1, 2018. However, an extension was granted until March.

“Currently, city staff is meeting with community stakeholders to craft the details of the program,” said Alice Claiborne, outreach director for council member Troxclair, in an email. “Once the details are ironed out, the pilot program will be brought back to City Council for approval before being

While the details of the pilot program are not finalized, Troxclair intends to focus on the areas in Austin with the most need, including downtown and West Campus, Claiborne said.

West Campus is one of the most densely populated areas in Austin, McNew said, and the safety level is not adequate.

“My biggest complaint with the mayor and City Council is I believe tourists are treated better,” McNew said. “(UT) brings in more money from athletics alone. (UT) volunteers more than any other group. West Campus is the most densely populated area of Austin and no one cares, and it drives me crazy. (Students) are paying crazy rent, yet the infrastructure and safety is not comparable to other areas of town.”

McNew hopes RISE ATX will offer a permanent solution to the homeless population and lessen the soliciting of students in West Campus, ensuring a safer environment for students.