Despite increased requests to relocate the homeless population in West Campus after dance freshman Haruka Weiser’s death, police have no specific policies to address the group in this area.
Homeless suspect Meechaiel Criner was arrested April 7 in connection with Weiser’s death, prompting several student and community petitions about relocating the homeless population.
Austin Police Department Commander Kurtis Krause said strategies to prevent crime are directed at any criminal activity in West Campus, and no policies are in place that specifically target the homeless population.
“As we focus our crime prevention efforts and resources in the West Campus area, it is always with a focus on criminal activity and quality of life issues, never a specific population,” Krause said.
According to UTPD daily reports, police reported 165 crimes involving individuals unaffiliated with the University between Jan. 1 and April 7. Prominent trends in this data include criminal trespassing, instances of K2 usage and a majority of crimes occurring at the intersection of Guadalupe and 23rd Streets. The data does not specify if homeless people were responsible for the crimes.
Economics sophomore Tanner Golden created a Change.org petition “to protect the students of Austin by lessening the homeless population.” As of April 20, the petition had 2,841 signatures. Golden said he plans to write a proposal to the City of Austin recommending alternative ways to protect the homeless without their close proximity to campus.
“There are a lot of different populations in the West Campus area, but I do think that the homeless people are contributing a lot more to assaults and harassments,” Golden said.
Several counter-petitions condemning the idea of removing the substantial homeless presence in this area have also circulated online.
Golden said he hopes the petition will solve the problem at the source by promoting more funding for housing, making drug rehabilitation more affordable and providing programs for mental illness to the homeless population. However, he said setting up these initiatives at alternative locations away from campus will help students feel safer.
While Krause said the department encourages students to stay vigilant and aware of their surroundings, he said a fear of the homeless population would be misguided. Krause also said APD has increased interactions with UTPD and is focusing on highly reported areas of crime to help students feel safer.
“The Austin Police Department has increased patrol in the West Campus area recently, however, enforcement efforts are constant in this area and many special initiatives have, and will continue to be, implemented whenever possible,” Krause wrote in an email.
Jeremy Tung, certified nursing aid and UT biochemistry alumnus, said he believes the homeless population is not the root of the lack of student safety. Instead of moving this population away from campus, Tung said he thinks alternative solutions include a greater police presence in these areas and University initiatives, such as SURE Walk.
“If you assault someone, I don’t think it’s dependent on whether you’re homeless or not,” Tung said. “We all want to see justice served, but in that process, we shouldn’t lose our humanity.”