University of Texas sophomore Sabrina Miller took her usual walk home Feb. 11, when she was assaulted by a homeless man on the Drag.
“I felt someone’s fist on the right side of my face and realized I got punched,” Miller said. When she turned around to see who it was, “the homeless man kept walking as if nothing happened.”
On the stretch of Guadalupe street across from the University of Texas campus, panhandlers can be seen asking for money from students. An estimated 2,300 Austin residents live on the streets, and 900 of them are considered chronically homeless, according to Austin Homeless Management Information System, a Travis County database used to serve the homeless.
Many students like Sabrina encounter the homeless frequently on or near campus. Their presence raises safety concerns for many students and faculty. University of Texas Police Department officers said the homeless are allowed to be on campus and the Drag, but students should take precautions to avoid an incident like Miller’s.
UTPD Crime Prevention Officer William Pieper said rather than ignoring panhandlers on the street, “make eye contact with them, nod at them, make sure they know they that ‘hey, this person has seen me and they know what I look like to make a description.’”
Miller said she politely refused to give the homeless man money claiming she did not have any. She said she did not report her attack because she did not get a good look at her assaulter.
UTPD’s crime statistics reports 68 assaults in 2013 but UTPD does not distinguish which cases deal with a homeless attacker. Peiper said cases of aggressive homeless behavior are not common because UTPD frequently receives calls from faculty, staff and students before things escalate to violence.
Peiper said UT is an open campus so anyone is free to come but there are rules regulating behavior such as camping and solicitation.
“Can’t solicit anything without consent,” Peiper said, “even asking for someone for a cigarette is not allowed on campus.”
UTPD Crime Prevention Officer Layne Brewster said if the homeless fail to comply, they are given a citation for criminal trespass and if caught violating the criminal trespass ordinance again, they can be arrested on sight.
Miller said she does not want to stereotype all homeless people as dangerous because of her one experience but she does hope, “something can be done to regulate not necessarily their presence on the Drag but the actions they commit,” to ensure students’ safety.