UT senior vice president Darrell Bazzell asked Mayor Steve Adler and the Austin City Council to prohibit homeless individuals from camping along the perimeter of the University and West Campus in a letter Wednesday.
“As you continue to review possible changes to city ordinances, I hope the Council will work to improve public safety by prohibiting camping by members of the public in areas along the entire perimeter of campus, as well as in the area west of campus where many students live, work and gather,” Bazzell said. “These are high pedestrian areas that are not the safest or most humane places for homeless people to gather and where public safety risks or hazards could exist for our students.”
The Austin City Council approved an ordinance that went into effect in July that lifted bans on where homeless individuals are allowed to camp in Austin. But they’ve since been deliberating making changes to the ordinance, deciding last week to postpone their vote until the week of Oct. 10.
“We are firmly committed to protecting the safety of our students, employees, visitors and all Austinites both through the short-term policies discussed above and long-term strategies that we must develop together,” Bazzell said.
In his letter, CFO Bazzell cited two incidents within the last week as indicators for changes to the camping ordinance. On Monday, it was reported that a homeless man had been charged with making terroristic threats against the University. That same day, the Austin Police Department responded to an aggravated assault at the intersection of 23rd and San Antonio streets, where a suspect with a “machete-like knife” injured a man.
“While the cause of any incident may be difficult to know immediately, these episodes remind us of the need for greater safety in the areas around campus,” Bazzell said.
SafeHorns president Joell McNew said the organization was glad to see Bazzell’s letter, but SafeHorns would like to see more safety improvements made than just restricting homeless camping in West Campus and around the University. The organization recommended new safety infrastructure in West Campus such as call boxes with high resolution cameras and improved lighting, McNew said.
“We were happily surprised by his leadership for taking the initiative to write the letter,” McNew said. “It was something that we had been wanting to hear from other UT administration (officials) outside of Chief Carter, so we are very happy to see that response from (Bazzell).”
She said SafeHorns has been advocating for increased monitoring of criminal behavior, including implementing safety policies similar to those used at the University of Southern California. USC instituted a 2.5 mile radius, 24/7 patrol zone in what is essentially their West Campus area, McNew said. She said students have become desensitized to criminal activity around campus.
“(They think) that it’s expected that this is how we live in West Campus,” McNew said. “That is unacceptable."
Editor's Note: This story was updated to include comments from SafeHorns.