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UTPD Chief urges Austin leaders to ban homeless camping along campus perimeter

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the University of Texas at Austin welcomed students for the Fall 2019 semester, University Police Chief David Carter is beseeching the city to prevent homeless people from camping along the perimeter of campus.

Carter’s Wednesday letter was addressed to Mayor Steve Adler and Austin City Council members. In it, he said the UT community supports the city’s efforts to help find solutions for finding permanent housing for homeless people, but until then, security needed to be improved.

This comes after Austin City Council relaxed rules, effective July 1. The changes allow people who are homeless to camp on public property as long as they’re not being a safety hazard.

“…I request that the Council 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,” Chief Carter wrote.

“Predatory and harassing behavior”

Carter wrote that police regularly respond to calls about predatory or harassing behavior along the “Drag,” referring to a stretch of Guadalupe Street near UT that is frequented by students, staff and faculty.

In the letter, Carter said members of the UT community “often feel threatened” in the area and sometimes homeless people themselves become victims of violence there.

Allowing homeless people to sit or camp in the densely populated West Campus area also posed a risk to public health and security, Carter wrote.

“Honestly, I don’t feel that safe especially at night,” said UT senior Linvy Vu. “I definitely heard [from] friends who have been chased down by homeless people or followed by suspicious people, so I’m always looking behind my back and carrying pepper spray.”

Carter wrote in his letter:

“The City has a responsibility not only to seek appropriate housing and treatment for the homeless, but to recognize that the interface of young students and some subjects of the homeless community have created potential dangers. This view is not based on discriminatory practices but, rather, on real-world experiences of members of the UT community.”

City leaders respond

UT and West Campus are in City Council Member Kathie Tovo’s district. She said, “I take seriously that students’ perception of safety may not be as high as we want it to be. We want all students to feel safe and to be safe.”

Tovo said the council is anticipating to discuss possible limitations to camping at its next regular meeting.

She said she has also requested data from Austin Police and hopes to have conversations with UTPD soon. “What are the most common crimes in West Campus; have there been trends; have there been changes, not over the last month and a half, but over the last couple years,” she said.

Some people have raised questions, however, “How do you tell people that don’t have a place to go that they can’t be here?” Chas Moore with Austin Justice Coalition said, “Where do you want these people to go? If you don’t want them downtown, if you don’t want them in your neighborhood, where do you want these people to go?”

City leaders have said they’ll make increasing housing for the homeless a top priority.

Mayor Adler said:

“Chief Carter’s input is greatly appreciated.  UT is a much needed partner on many city-wide issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, urban design, and jobs and we need to be working together more.  The Council will consider homelessness action at our next regular council meeting in September, as we indicated we would in June, taking into account the important input we’re getting from the Manager and across the community.”

The LBJ School of Public Affairs and the LBJ Foundation are hosting a public forum Thursday evening to discuss changes to the city’s public ordinances regarding homelessness. The forum will be held at Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium and featuring Mayor Steve Adler, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and several other panelists.