Weeks ago, Mayor Turner announced a plan to get Houston’s homeless off city streets. A program that will mirror the San Antonio’s homeless initiative, The Way Home. The program will consist of a safe area where the homeless can sleep nightly, take showers, use the restroom and utilize services for housing, etc. The program will be considered a safe haven for the homeless. In that same press conference led by Mayor Turner, he also confirmed that he was looking to pass an ordinance that would prohibit the use of tents on public property. This immediately affects those living under the bridge at 59 near San Jacinto called the Wheeler homeless camp. Homeless advocates were recently successful in pulling back Houston police officers who were violating the rights of the Wheeler homeless for merely sitting at their spot, doing nothing criminal that would have police demanding ID’s without probable cause. The property belongs to TXDOT because it’s property located under a Texas highway bridge. The City of Houston cannot cite trespassing laws at that location at this time. For years, the homeless have been living under the 59 bridge so learning that the city was attempting to pass an ordinance that would prohibit use of a tent grew disturbing among homeless advocates.
Homeless advocates pushed for supporters to attend the March 28th City Council meeting and to speak out against the ordinance. Below outlines the ordinance the city looks to implement. The ordinance is poorly written and completely opens the flood gates for harassment of the homeless community led by Houston police.
ORDINANCE AMENDING CHAPTER 21 OF THE CODE OF ORDINANCES, HOUSTON, TEXAS, relating to encampments in public places; declaring certain conduct to be unlawful and providing penalties therefor; containing findings and other provisions relating to the foregoing subject; providing for severability
Homeless advocate Em Payton spoke to the city council with great passion letting city leaders know that “we treat stray animals better than our homeless” which was recognized by CM Kubosh who thanked her for the speech and that he would keep her statement in mind when voting. CM Knox was drilling in on advocates looking to formally confirm whether we agreed or disagreed with the ordinance.
Shere Dore spoke to council reminding city leaders that “Houston is better than this” and that removing tent structures will only further expose the homeless leaving opportunity for more police harassment due to public lewdness, exposure, etc. CM Boykins spoke of the ordinance citing that the ordinance is there because of transient criminals. Claiming inmates get out of prison, are dropped off at Greyhound then they mix in with the homeless community creating trouble. This is based on “his research”. Homeless advocates are awaiting a response on what exact research was done and how the info was obtained because the assumption and excuses are far from the truth. Above it all, to criminalize the entire homeless community due to a possible few transient criminals is simply wrong.
Houston Activist Photographer gave a very moving speech to council. This was the first time in 6 years that Burnell McCray spoke to city leaders. That is how disturbed he was over the ordinance. His speech left several council members such as CM Christie and CM Kubosh in awe and thanked him for reminding them of how to be compassionate towards the poor. During McCray’s speech, CM Boykins took Dore outside to have a discussion once again outlining the criminal element of homelessness, using terms like con artists. He stated that the ordinance would be delayed because we came forward in concern over this matter but that it could be passed in the next session.
All of this has been presented because of the gentrified area located next to the Wheeler homeless camp. The last few years, expensive condo’s have been built near downtown, taking over areas of historic value, including homeless communities who’ve long been there before gentrification. Now the neighborhood wants the homeless out of their community in the worst way. The homeless community has been accused of being an eye sore, bringing down property values. Individuals of the community are on a 24 hour watch of the Wheeler camp, calling the cops any time an individual brings food to share, any time a homeless individual lights up their grill and even calling the police when homeless advocates take photo’s of the gentrifiers harassing the homeless under the bridge. Neighborhood men and women have been seen walking under the bridge, taking photo’s and filming the homeless and homeless advocates. At Wednesday’s council meeting, Mark McDermott who represents the neighborhood, spoke to council against the homeless, even accusing homeless advocates of harassment towards them.
Later that evening a women residing in the area who frequently films, takes photos, flips off homeless advocates for helping the homeless, drives erratically through the streets at Wheeler, called Houston Police when homeless advocate Payton took a photo of the frequented woman who was sitting at a stop sign taking photo’s of homeless advocates. Minutes later Houston police arrived questioning the incident, advising to the woman that on public property we can take photos. Also reminding the woman that they have no power under the bridge unless something criminal was taking place and in the eyes of the officer, there were no laws being broken. The woman took her walk of shame back to her car moments later after wasting tax payer dollars on such a call to 911.
Homeless advocates are once again asking public supporters to attend next weeks Tuesday April 4th Council meeting, assisting advocates in pulling back the ordinance altogether. You can speak to council by calling the City Secretary at 832-393-1100. Ask to speak on the tent/encampment ordinance. AN ID IS REQUIRED TO ATTEND THE COUNCIL MEETING.
If you cannot attend the council meeting and are unhappy with the ordinance, we are asking people to email your respective leaders. Info provided below. ALL At Large positions along with your district rep, mayor and most of all, Dist D rep of the Wheeler camp, Dwight Boykins, are all crucial in contacting each to let them know how you feel about the ordinance.
Mayor Turner firstname.lastname@example.org
Dist A: Stardig email@example.com
Dist B: Davis firstname.lastname@example.org
Dist C: Cohen email@example.com
Dist D: BOYKINS firstname.lastname@example.org
Dist E: Martin email@example.com
Dist F: Le firstname.lastname@example.org
Dist G: Travis email@example.com
Dist H: Cisneros districth@@houstontv.gov
Dist i: Gallegos firstname.lastname@example.org
Dist J: Laster email@example.com
Dist K: Green firstname.lastname@example.org
At Large1: Knox email@example.com
At Large2: Robinson firstname.lastname@example.org
At Large3: Kubosh email@example.com
At Large4: Edwards firstname.lastname@example.org
At Large5: Christie email@example.com
Houston City Council Agenda link: http://houstontx.swagit.com/play/03282017-1690