South Austin church answers complaint its homeless program is attracting crime

Sunrise Community Church is on Manchaca Road just a block from Ben White Boulevard. (CBS Austin)

Sunrise Community Church is on Manchaca Road just a block from Ben White Boulevard where you often see folks asking for a handout at the traffic light. But the church says it's being unfairly blamed for crimes that aren't committed by the homeless they're trying to help.

It all started on social media with a neighbor complaining, “More people hanging out in 2017 at the church and in the area equals more crime." Pastor Mark Hilbelink and local authorities have heard this one before. He says, “My experience and from what the police have told me most burglaries in this area are not committed by homeless people but the homeless people are usually the first people that get blamed."

And one homeless woman says she's tired of people always suspecting she's up to something. We asked Geneva Nicholson Campos what's the hardest part of living the homeless life? She answered, “Trying to make sure people are not always constantly 'What's going on?'"

Geneva came to Austin from New York for a job that didn't pan out. She adds, “My dream is to get back there and try to make something of myself and not just be this homeless person on the street."

Pastor Hilbelink says Sunrise Community Church is trying to help Geneva and others but not with a handout. He says, “A lot of times that just creates dependency and it doesn't help address the bigger issue. One of our things here is we're not just about handing things out, we want to house people, we want to work with Travis County agencies."

And they’re working with the city, too. Council Member Ann Kitchen came out here recently to meet with neighbors to talk about all this. She says a community group is working on a list of action items to address the concerns about the homeless in this neighborhood and to help them get the services they need.

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