Repeat homeless criminal trespassing highlights larger UT concern

A man who is homeless near the UT campus (KXAN Photo)
A man who is homeless near the UT campus (KXAN Photo)

KXAN (AUSTIN) — A repeat offender case highlights a much larger concern on the University of Texas campus.

Kirk Eric Morse, who is homeless, received a criminal trespass citation Saturday. Not unusual, until KXAN discovered he had nine previous criminal trespass warnings on campus in the last six years. Similar cycles of public safety issues with transients prompted a meeting Monday between city council members, a UT parent group and the university’s student body president.

“We really are trying to have as many conversations as humanly possible right now to ensure that from this point moving forward, safety isn’t a concern for neither the parents nor the students who are coming to the institution,” Kevin Helgren said. It’s an institution he will help lead next year as UT’s student body president.

Helgren realizes the responsibility comes at a time when emphasis on safety arguably has never been greater. The university in April was faced with its first homicide on campus in nearly 50 years.

“We’ve been under a bit of a spotlight in the past few months and I think it’s been productive in some ways because it’s making sure that we as a university are being held accountable,” Helgren said.

For one, UT is working to develop an app for “Sure Walk” and expand the program, essentially a buddy system to help students get from point A to point B on campus after hours.

“Right now the demand is much higher than what we’re able to accommodate,” Helgren said.

KXAN found there were 92 cases of criminal trespassing on UT’s campus last year. Many were for sleeping inside campus buildings and some were repeat offenders. UT students have been talking about these cases for several months. In April, we told you about a recent student government survey done earlier this year. It found 84 percent of students were worried about their safety because of homeless people on or near campus and called for more programs to help people find jobs and homes.

On a broader scale, the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) is partnering with Austin police, EMS and mental health professionals to create a Homeless Outreach Street Team that will focus on the areas of West Campus and downtown, getting to the root of why people are homeless and connecting them with help in a proactive way.

“Up to now, the response to these kinds of issues is reactive. Somebody does something wrong or gets into a crisis situation on the street and the police are called.” DAA’s Bill Brice said. “We’re trying to get ahead of that and be the conduit to get these folks to the treatment and services and hopefully housing they desperately need.”

The Homeless Outreach Street Team pilot program will use existing resources and run from June 1 until Oct. 1. The goal is to identify gaps in service and move toward funding.

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