Amanda Hart
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In Their Own Words: Homeless in Houston

In Their Own Words: Homeless in Houston
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Photos by Mark Armes

The City of Houston is back at it again, and by again I mean finding new and inventive ways to criminalize the poor. We already run a debtor’s prison in Harris County, and now some new misguided ordinances recently passed by City Council are receiving quite a bit of attention, both locally and nationally. Under Annise Parker’s leadership in 2012, the city passed an ordinance that made it illegal to feed more than five people on public property without a permit. The 2012 feeding ordinance certainly had an impact on people experiencing homelessness, and last month the city stepped up their efforts by going after access to shelter and resources through two new ordinances.

Ordinance No. 2017-261 is the new ‘anti-encampment’ ordinance. The ordinance specifically states, “Encampment means any one or more of the following: (a) The unauthorized use of fabric, metal, cardboard, or other materials as a tent or other temporary structure for living accommodation purposes or human habitation; or (b) The unauthorized use of a heating device; or (c) The unauthorized accumulation of personal property (other than durable medical equipment) that would not fit in a container three feet high, three feet wide, and three feet deep.”

Did you catch all that? No longer are people in Houston allowed to have anything that resembles shelter. Not even cardboard, and certainly not tents. Also, any personal items that you would like to keep cannot be stored in a container that is anything bigger than 3’x3’x3′. And well, sorry, no grills or heaters allowed either. All three of these violations carry the risk of arrest and a fine of up to $500.

Ordinance No. 2017-256 is the new ‘anti-panhandling’ ordinance. Assuming you can’t technically criminalize asking people for money, the city decided instead to limit who has access to our roadways, sidewalks, and streets. What’s really telling about the ordinance is the exemption that allows city employees to solicit charitable contributions via, you guessed it, a roadway! Gotta make sure churches, fire departments and soccer moms can block those roads and take your money. Just don’t be poor and need to do that same thing! This ordinance paired with the Mayor Turner’s new campaign – Meaningful Change; Not Spare Change – will surely hurt the folks who panhandle to get by.

01

We understand that the city thinks they are helping. It’s obvious that these issues are not easily fixed. There are multiple organizations who are constantly trying to find resources and funding to meet the needs of folks living on the streets. They aren’t just dealing with homelessness, but all of the trauma that led to a person finding themselves without the ability to meet their basic needs. That isn’t exactly a situation that’s easy for anyone to navigate, but criminalizing folks who have limited access to basic things like food and shelter is not the answer. Part of the problem is that we consistently attempt to use law enforcement to fix issues they are not qualified to fix. Half of what makes up these ordinances is detailing what police are allowed to do when people do not comply. You cannot criminalize the poor or mentally ill and expect it to go away. We should demand better of our elected officials, and ourselves for that matter.

For real change to happen in society we have to start humanizing each other. Our values and beliefs are so misguided when it comes to understanding the trauma and marginalization that occurs to the majority of the population under capitalism. And the people who have the real resources to fix these issues that plague our society are the ones who benefit from this bootstraps mentality we so often hear and see. We should work on how we think and talk about the poor in this country, and also why we criminalized them. To truly deal with this issue we don’t just need funding, we need a culture shift; one that moves away from the tired trope that it’s the fault of the poor that they find themselves in such a situation. We are better than this. So try harder to be kind and stop believing what our wealthy overlords are dishing out. We live in the richest country in history, if only there was a way to rid our communities of homelessness and poverty. Oh, wait.

That said, one thing missing from the coverage around these new ordinances is the voices of the people who are most impacted by them. So we spent some time on a rainy Sunday afternoon under the US 59 overpass and listened to anyone willing to share their experience. In an effort to be more in line with our beliefs as a community paper we wanted to dedicate most of the space for this article to those stories, which we’ve compiled into a photo essay below. Out of respect for their privacy, we will only be printing first names.

________

 

03 (1)

Mikala
I’m originally from Dallas, and most of my life was challenging, but I’ve done the best I could. At a young age I went to work at IHOP to help support and raise my younger siblings. I came to Houston a few years ago and was working on being a nurse, a goal I am still committed to. The cost of school was too much and then in a string of bad luck I was caught with a few joints. I spent my birthday in jail because I couldn’t afford bail. The judge sentenced me to probation and now I’m struggling because I can’t leave the county. The training I’ve received as a nurse would be really helpful to my sick grandmother in Dallas, but I can’t get up there to see her. I have never been interested in help or a handout. I just wish people would understand that we are human just like anyone else. And what the city is doing to us is inhumane.

05

Jay
I grew up in Corpus Christi and come from a military family. I have multiple relatives that have served in the Army, Coast Guards and Navy; a tradition I am committed to continuing. Currently I am enrolled at Houston Community College and am close to finishing my GED. After which I am hopeful I can enroll in basic training and work my way up to Sargent in the Army. It’s been extremely challenging being on the streets and working on my degree. My only ID that I have is my HCC one, and if I lose it I don’t have access to any other form of identification. I am working on getting a state ID, but accessing my birth certificate has been difficult. I appreciate what Operation ID is doing to try and help us, but it’s still a long process.

If the city really cared about what happens to us they would do things like bring us water. Instead they spend money to put up fences so we can’t access our tents. Just a few weeks ago I had some issues with the police when they stopped me for jaywalking. If they had taken me to jail like they were threatening it would have impacted my studies. I just hope they realize that sending me to jail isn’t going to help my situation. I am just going to continue to end up on the streets. I agree with Mikala, I am not looking for a handout. I am working on bettering my life, I just think the city should be more understanding of the struggles we face.

02

Tammy
After fleeing an abusive partner in Ohio, I made my way to Houston. I’ve been on the streets for 6 years. I was recently diagnosed with terminal skin cancer and the tent that I live in is saving my life. I don’t think the city understands what they are doing to me and others when they take away our access to shelter and privacy.

I am working with the ACLU on a lawsuit against these new ordinances. Our lawsuit says the city is in violation of the 1st, 4th, 8th and 14th amendments. I am hopeful that the courts will rule in our favor. It is unreasonable to think that we can fit all of our belongings in a space as tiny as 3x3x3.

I am one of the lucky ones though, hopefully next week my paperwork will be finalized and I can move into an apartment. But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep fighting for the family and friends I have made along the way. No one deserves to be criminalized because they found themselves in hard times.

04

Patrick & Diamond
I think the city needs more homeless shelters. There just aren’t enough beds to cover everyone. They also don’t allow pets, so what am I suppose to do with Diamond? I want to give her a good life. Instead the cops just come by and give us warnings, telling us we have to clear out of here. But where are we supposed to go?

Steve
I had a good job driving an 18 wheeler and lived in a home off of Collingsworth, but in the last year I lost my job due to an injury I sustained that left me bed ridden with multiple dislocated discs in my back. On top of that, my landlord raised my rent by $250 and I couldn’t afford to stay. The area I was living in has seen a lot of development over the last few years, development that helped push me out. Right now I’m just trying to start over, and the aggression from the city isn’t helping. We need affordable housing, not new ordinances that criminalize people like me and keep us trapped in a system that we can never get out of. We are good people.

06

Darius & Renesha (Engaged)

Darius
Homa, Louisiana is where I was born, but I’ve been in Houston for awhile now. I would like to see the city have more activities to help with housing. I was kicked out of Covenant House five years ago and am still not allowed back. I have tried to get access to identification, but working with Operation ID is a slow process, especially when you have to get a birth certificate from out of state. Having Renesha by my side helps keep me sane. I agree, part of the problem with shelters is that we can’t stay together, and they often times aren’t safe. I would rather be able to be near her and know we can help protect each other.

Renesha
I’m a native Texan who grew up in Beaumont. I graduated from Westbrook High School in 2002. After high school I attended Prairieville University where I studied music, but my abusive husband made it difficult for me to continue my studies. I took my babies and left. My children now live with their grandmother while I am trying to get back on my feet. I am very disappointed that the city is criminalizing me. I wish they would stop taking us to jail or mental institutions to hide us from the public. We are human beings, not criminals. They want us to stay in shelters, but I have found them unsafe and prefer to take my chances on the street. Also, I don’t want to be split up from my fiancé, Darius.

I would love to have access to an apartment, but I am worried about the strings attached to accepting help from the same city who is trying to criminalize me. I’m a grown woman, and want to be treated as such. A few rules are understandable, but I just think they are going to try and control my life and that isn’t something I can deal with.

  • Laura Waldusky

    Just curious, has anyone at Free Press Houston asked the Mayor’s Office or any of the Downtown Houston Residents, or the Downtown Houston Business Owners or any of the surrounding organizations about this? As a longtime resident of 77002 and 77003, this article is extremely one-sided and has not delved into the reasons as to why these ordinances have been created. No one who actually resides down here and is in the trenches is out to de-humanize anyone. Visiting and observing on a single afternoon isn’t enough. And writing sarcastic responses to the legal wording in the ordinances is hardly helping.

    And about that anti-panhandling…every single day for half a year, Tim would hang out at the corner of Main and Preston asking people for money. When he got enough, he would take it to the corner store and get beer. At 8:30am. Because Tim would get DRUNK. Every single day. But Tim was not a funny drunk. He was a bullying, harassing drunk who would follow you inside of a building while calling you every name in the book. And then he would use the building as a public urinal. Tim isn’t hanging out at the corner right now, because of the public intoxication and the trespassing. But now there is another man who is doing the same thing. Met him a couple of weeks ago when he pulled out his penis to pee on the brick wall of the parking lot.

    But you’re not interested in that story.

  • Laura Waldusky

    Yeah – about that anti-panhandling the writer is describing… there’s nothing like watching a man receive a couple of dollars, take it down to the corner shop and start drinking beer (or continue drinking) at 8:30am. This happens every day at the corner of Main and Preston where I work. Oh, my favorite part? There’s is nothing like being called every name in the book and being followed inside of a building by a street person who is drunk and unstable who is shouting at you and then using the outside of the building as a public urinal. The Beacon, which serves meals is just 2 blocks away and whoever is hanging out at that corner isn’t interested in the free meals served twice a day there.

  • NateL

    As alluded in my prior three posts, which have all been deleted, Kohr has received housing but turned it down. Why FPH continues to delete that post is beyond me, as it shows an accurate portrayal of the aid being offered to those under the bridge, which they refuse to accept. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3ab07dc11e9ea229942b0dfc861a74112657e7b941ebb28ec239617f88675f35.png

    • Ulisses Lima

      Probably deleted them cause who tf are you and why should we read hearsay? How do you know why that person turned it down or if they even did? Unless you’ve been homeless or worked to alleviate homelessness your self righteousness is a big part of the problem. If you want to contribute to the issue get out and write your own article and interview those views you supposedly represent. Otherwise, you’re just another right-wing troll whining about how poor people are the cause (they’re just too lazy) and not the result of Texas’ war on poverty.

      • NateL

        War on poverty?

        District D residents, those impacted by this community, contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars toward construction of housing.

        You are mistaken or simply have not taken the time to review the mayor’s six-point “Meaningful Change, Not Spare Change” plan if you think housing is not the main component. It includes the following housing options:

        -Low-level shelters in each council district, which would suit those who prefer the outdoors as opposed to enclosed spaces. Those are essentially low-slung roofs that mimic highway overpasses, enabling those folks to make their homes and pursue their passions in safe environs while still providing basic services such as health care, substance abuse help and bathroom facilities. Housing numbers at these sites will vary due to land size and the amount of items those people have, but Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives Marc Eichenbaum has said repeatedly that they will accommodate between 50 and 100 people. With 11 council districts, that’s enough for 550 people using only the conservative number.

        -Contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Star of Hope to aid construction of a massive 48-acre facility on Reed Road, near Highway 288. It is comprised of two key elements, a 1,000-person mixed-use development called “The Cornerstone” and a 7-acre facility for homeless families called “New Hope Housing at Reed.”

        The Cornerstone development will offer housing for 180 women, 105 families and dormitory-style housing for 1,000 individuals. It will include a chapel, day care facility, computer lab and park, will double the charity’s capacity for caring for homeless families.

        NHH at Reed, which sits across the street from the Cornerstone development, will offer 187 units of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with access to shared common spaces. Free after-school and summer programs to Reed residents. Shared spaces at Reed will include a courtyard with playground, a business center and multipurpose rooms.

        Cornerstone and NHH at Reed alone will double San Antonio’s Haven for Hope capacity, which many here say is the model. CoH contributed this money at an early 2017 council meeting, and those facilities are under construction now.

        Nice approach to this dialogue, calling me a right-wing troll. Take your own advice and ask me who I voted for.

    • elecktriksmile

      I am saddened to see an organization calling itself “Free Press” is censoring those with different views and with more information. I am also saddened to see there is no attempt at a comment from the city. Isn’t that Journalism 101?

      • Caitlin Brown

        Quote from story- “That said, one thing missing from the coverage around these new ordinances is the voices of the people who are most impacted by them. So we spent some time on a rainy Sunday afternoon under the US 59 overpass and listened to anyone willing to share their experience. In an effort to be more in line with our beliefs as a community paper we wanted to dedicate most of the space for this article to those stories, which we’ve compiled into a photo essay below. Out of respect for their privacy, we will only be printing first names.” Other papers covering the new ordinance were peppered with quotes from the city. The whole point of this article was to obtain the viewpoints of the homeless population.

    • Caitlin Brown

      Where do you get the information that she turned it down? Her own quote in the story said she said that hopefully her paperwork would be completed this week so she could move in.
      Perhaps your quote was deleted since it violated the spirit of keeping the individuals anonymous by only using first names.

      • NateL

        She was originally given housing in May, which was chronicled on social media and in the lawsuit briefs. She instead chose to join the lawsuit. If the lawsuit obtains the class-action status, she and others can obtain a settlement from the city.

  • NateL

    It appears Free Press Houston deleted my first comment, which reflected how the City of Houston was actually dealing with the situation. That comment included how residents of the two neighborhoods immediately impacted by the encampment that was founded and has grown over the last nine months are putting money forward to help those under the bridge. I guess writing about how aid is being offered differs from the narrative FPH wants to tell. So, I will post it again.

    Neither the city nor the police have cited or arrested the residents of this encampment. On the contrary, deadlines set publicly by the mayor have been pushed back repeatedly.

    Houston City Council passed ordinances to combat panhandling and encampments on public property on April 12, only to announce a warning period for the encampment. Houston police officers are passing out written warnings containing resources available to the encampment residents.

    Encampment removal deadlines were set for the New Year, Jan. 15, days before the Super Bowl, the week after the big game and then March. Encampment residents would be moved safely into housing or treatment programs, residents were told. Turner also released a six-point plan to provide holistic solutions for Houston homeless. It included regular outreach, low-level shelters and supportive housing.

    Free Press Houston and its reporter are mistaken or simply have not taken the time to review the mayor’s six-point “Meaningful Change, Not Spare Change” plan if they think housing is not the main component. It includes the following housing options:

    -Low-level shelters in each council district, which would suit those who prefer the outdoors as opposed to enclosed spaces. Those are essentially low-slung roofs that mimic highway overpasses, enabling those folks to make their homes and pursue their passions in safe environs while still providing basic services such as health care, substance abuse help and bathroom facilities. Housing numbers at these sites will vary due to land size and the amount of items those people have, but Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives Marc Eichenbaum has said repeatedly that they will accommodate between 50 and 100 people. With 11 council districts, that’s enough for 550 people using only the conservative number.

    -District D residents have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Star of Hope to aid construction of a massive 48-acre facility on Reed Road, near Highway 288. It is comprised of two key elements, a 1,000-person mixed-use development called “The Cornerstone” and a 7-acre facility for homeless families called “New Hope Housing at Reed.”

    The Cornerstone development will offer housing for 180 women, 105 families and dormitory-style housing for 1,000 individuals. It will include a chapel, day care facility, computer lab and park, will double the charity’s capacity for caring for homeless families.

    NHH at Reed, which sits across the street from the Cornerstone development, will offer 187 units of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with access to shared common spaces. Free after-school and summer programs to Reed residents. Shared spaces at Reed will include a courtyard with playground, a business center and multipurpose rooms.

    Cornerstone and NHH at Reed alone will double San Antonio’s Haven for Hope capacity, which many here say is the model. CoH contributed this money at an early 2017 council meeting, and those facilities are under construction now.

    Had Free Press Houston or its reporter even taken the time to review Houston’s press release archive, they’d have noticed this. The press release covering what I just wrote was distributed to the assembled media and is readily available to the interested public today.

    Also, one of the people interviewed for this story has been charged with more than 40 violent crimes, including numerous aggravated assaults and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Also, he’s been charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and was arrested for assaulting a shopper who refused to buy him alcohol.

    One of the people interviewed for this story actually was interviewed by one of the television stations, and in the interview he stated that he would not accept housing because it would require him to at some point gain employment, when life in the camp allowed him to accept food and clothing, electronics and vices, without ever needing a job.

    The wild inaccuracies and lack of attribution for the city or neighborhood residents shows Free Press Houston’s disregard for basic journalistic standards. Where are the statements claiming FPH attempted to interview the city or residents?

    As a media member, I am shocked that the copy desk approved this piece for publication. I am also blown away FPH staff would delete my comment showing what the plan actually offered.

  • NateL

    It appears Free Press Houston deleted my first comment, which reflected how the City of Houston was actually dealing with the situation. That comment included how residents of the two neighborhoods immediately impacted by the encampment that was founded and has grown over the last nine months are putting money forward to help those under the bridge. I guess writing about how aid is being offered differs from the narrative FPH wants to tell. So, I will post it again.

    Neither the city nor the police have cited or arrested the residents of this encampment. On the contrary, deadlines set publicly by the mayor have been pushed back repeatedly.

    Houston City Council passed ordinances to combat panhandling and encampments on public property on April 12, only to announce a warning period for the encampment. Houston police officers are passing out written warnings containing resources available to the encampment residents.

    Encampment removal deadlines were set for the New Year, Jan. 15, days before the Super Bowl, the week after the big game and then March. Encampment residents would be moved safely into housing or treatment programs, residents were told. Turner also released a six-point plan to provide holistic solutions for Houston homeless. It included regular outreach, low-level shelters and supportive housing.

    Free Press Houston and its reporter are mistaken or simply have not taken the time to review the mayor’s six-point “Meaningful Change, Not Spare Change” plan if they think housing is not the main component. It includes the following housing options:

    -Low-level shelters in each council district, which would suit those who prefer the outdoors as opposed to enclosed spaces. Those are essentially low-slung roofs that mimic highway overpasses, enabling those folks to make their homes and pursue their passions in safe environs while still providing basic services such as health care, substance abuse help and bathroom facilities. Housing numbers at these sites will vary due to land size and the amount of items those people have, but Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives Marc Eichenbaum has said repeatedly that they will accommodate between 50 and 100 people. With 11 council districts, that’s enough for 550 people using only the conservative number.

    -District D residents have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Star of Hope to aid construction of a massive 48-acre facility on Reed Road, near Highway 288. It is comprised of two key elements, a 1,000-person mixed-use development called “The Cornerstone” and a 7-acre facility for homeless families called “New Hope Housing at Reed.”

    The Cornerstone development will offer housing for 180 women, 105 families and dormitory-style housing for 1,000 individuals. It will include a chapel, day care facility, computer lab and park, will double the charity’s capacity for caring for homeless families.

    NHH at Reed, which sits across the street from the Cornerstone development, will offer 187 units of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with access to shared common spaces. Free after-school and summer programs to Reed residents. Shared spaces at Reed will include a courtyard with playground, a business center and multipurpose rooms.

    Cornerstone and NHH at Reed alone will double San Antonio’s Haven for Hope capacity, which many here say is the model. CoH contributed this money at an early 2017 council meeting, and those facilities are under construction now.

    Had Free Press Houston or its reporter even taken the time to review Houston’s press release archive, they’d have noticed this. The press release covering what I just wrote was distributed to the assembled media and is readily available to the interested public today.

    Also, one of the people interviewed for this story has been charged with more than 40 violent crimes, including numerous aggravated assaults and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Also, he’s been charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and was arrested for assaulting a shopper who refused to buy him alcohol.

    One of the people interviewed for this story actually was interviewed by one of the television stations, and in the interview he stated that he would not accept housing because it would require him to at some point gain employment, when life in the camp allowed him to accept food and clothing, electronics and vices, without ever needing a job.

    The wild inaccuracies and lack of attribution for the city or neighborhood residents shows Free Press Houston’s disregard for basic journalistic standards. Where are the statements claiming FPH attempted to interview the city or residents?

    As a media member, I am shocked that the copy desk approved this piece for publication. I am also blown away FPH staff would delete my comment showing what the plan actually offered.

  • NateL

    It appears Free Press Houston delete my first comment, which reflected how the City of Houston was actually dealing with the situation. That comment actually included how residents of the two neighborhoods immediately impacted by the encampment that was founded and has grown over the last nine months are putting money forward to help those under the bridge. So, I will post it again.

    The city nor the police have cited or arrested the residents of this encampment. On the contrary, deadlines set publicly by the mayor have been pushed back repeatedly.

    Houston City Council passed ordinances to combat panhandling and encampments on public property on April 12, only to announce a warning period for the encampment. Houston police officers are passing out written warnings containing resources available to the encampment residents.

    Encampment removal deadlines were set for the New Year, Jan. 15, days before the Super Bowl, the week after the big game and then March. Encampment residents would be moved safely into housing or treatment programs, residents were told. Turner also released a six-point plan to provide holistic solutions for Houston homeless. It included regular outreach, low-level shelters and supportive housing.

    Houston Free Press and its reporter are mistaken or simply have not taken the time to review the mayor’s six-point “Meaningful Change, Not Spare Change” plan if they think housing is not the main component. It includes the following housing options:

    -Low-level shelters in each council district, which would suit those who prefer the outdoors as opposed to enclosed spaces. Those are essentially low-slung roofs that mimic highway overpasses, enabling those folks to make their homes and pursue their passions in safe environs while still providing basic services such as health care, substance abuse help and bathroom facilities. Housing numbers at these sites will vary due to land size and the amount of items those people have, but Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives Marc Eichenbaum has said repeatedly that they will accommodate between 50 and 100 people. With 11 council districts, that’s enough for 550 people using only the conservative number.

    -Contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Star of Hope to aid construction of a massive 48-acre facility on Reed Road, near Highway 288. It is comprised of two key elements, a 1,000-person mixed-use development called “The Cornerstone” and a 7-acre facility for homeless families called “New Hope Housing at Reed.”

    The Cornerstone development will offer housing for 180 women, 105 families and dormitory-style housing for 1,000 individuals. It will include a chapel, day care facility, computer lab and park, will double the charity’s capacity for caring for homeless families.

    NHH at Reed, which sits across the street from the Cornerstone development, will offer 187 units of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with access to shared common spaces. Free after-school and summer programs to Reed residents. Shared spaces at Reed will include a courtyard with playground, a business center and multipurpose rooms.

    Cornerstone and NHH at Reed alone will double San Antonio’s Haven for Hope capacity, which many here say is the model. CoH contributed this money at an early 2017 council meeting, and those facilities are under construction now.

    Had Free Press Houston or its reporter even taken the time to review Houston’s press release archive, they’d have noticed this.

    One of the people interviewed for this story actually was interviewed by one of the television stations, and in the interview he stated that he would not accept housing because it would require him to at some point gain employment, when life in the camp allowed him to accept food and clothing, electronics and vices, without ever needing a job.

    The wild inaccuracies and lack of attribution for the city or neighborhood residents shows Free Press Houston’s disregard for basic journalistic standards. Where are the statements claiming FPH attempted to interview the city or residents?

    As a media member, I am shocked that the copy desk approved this piece for publication. I am also blown away FPH staff would delete my comment showing what the plan actually offered.

  • Nathaniel Lukefahr

    Two things missing from your coverage were voices of the two impacted neighborhoods by the people refusing aid and the city itself. Two sides of the story is Journalism 101. Since I failed to find a statement to the effect of city and nearby residents declined comment, I gather Hart either never went or did not pay attention in J-School.

    Since Hart has decided not to cover both sides of this story, and actually report on the one side inaccurately as many interviewed were offered housing but declined, here’s how the neighborhood is impacted: http://www.click2houston.com/news/man-caught-on-camera-pooping-peeing-on-house

  • Nathaniel Lukefahr

    This is the most uninformed article about this issue I’ve read in quite some time. The reporter clearly has no knowledge of the issue. The city, nor the police, are enforcing these ordinances. Also, crime around the encampments has skyrocketed greatly.

    What this story fails to cite is the city has brokered deals with shelters to guarantee space for anyone who seeks shelter, regardless of their mental state or alcohol or drug habits. The Homeless Outreach Team and Coalition for the Homeless canvassed the encampment daily for many months, many of the people quoted for this story refused shelter. One of the members quoted for this story was interviewed by a Houston television station, and he said he preferred the tented encampment due to its proximity to drugs and items to take.

    Encampment removal deadlines were set for the New Year, Jan. 15, days before the Super Bowl, the week after the big game and then March. Encampment residents would be moved safely into housing or treatment programs, residents were told. Turner also released a six-point plan to provide holistic solutions for Houston homeless. It included regular outreach, low-level shelters and supportive housing.

    Houston City Council passed ordinances to combat panhandling and encampments on public property on April 12, only to announce a warning period for the encampment. Houston police officers would pass out written warnings containing resources available to the encampment residents during the grace period. Absolutely zero citations or tent removals have taken place. Those who live in Lower Midtown know the tent count is growing daily.

    Also, District D residents, home to the Highway 59 overpass in which most of these interviews took place, have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Star of Hope to build a multi-faceted housing complex for those down on their luck.

    You are mistaken or simply have not taken the time to review the mayor’s six-point “Meaningful Change, Not Spare Change” plan if you think housing is not the main component. It includes the following housing options:

    -Low-level shelters in each council district, which would suit those who prefer the outdoors as opposed to enclosed spaces. Those are essentially low-slung roofs that mimic highway overpasses, enabling those folks to make their homes and pursue their passions in safe environs while still providing basic services such as health care, substance abuse help and bathroom facilities. Housing numbers at these sites will vary due to land size and the amount of items those people have, but Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives Marc Eichenbaum has said repeatedly that they will accommodate between 50 and 100 people. With 11 council districts, that’s enough for 550 people using only the conservative number.

    -Contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Star of Hope to aid construction of a massive 48-acre facility on Reed Road, near Highway 288. It is comprised of two key elements, a 1,000-person mixed-use development called “The Cornerstone” and a 7-acre facility for homeless families called “New Hope Housing at Reed.”

    The Cornerstone development will offer housing for 180 women, 105 families and dormitory-style housing for 1,000 individuals. It will include a chapel, day care facility, computer lab and park, will double the charity’s capacity for caring for homeless families.

    NHH at Reed, which sits across the street from the Cornerstone development, will offer 187 units of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with access to shared common spaces. Free after-school and summer programs to Reed residents. Shared spaces at Reed will include a courtyard with playground, a business center and multipurpose rooms.

    Cornerstone and NHH at Reed alone will double San Antonio’s Haven for Hope capacity, which many here say is the model. CoH contributed this money at an early 2017 council meeting, and those facilities are under construction now.

    This is absolutely shameful reporting.