While the homeless population of Houston has been in decline in recent years, Houston City Council will be taking drastic measures to crackdown on homelessness and panhandling. Mayor Sylvester Turner says the current homeless situation is “simply not acceptable” and is calling for a comprehensive change.
The new plan will include a strict anti-encampment ordinance, which will make it illegal for people to erect and sleep in tents and other makeshift shelters on public property. The homeless encampments, besides being unsanitary health hazards, are also hotbeds for criminal activity.
The city has been conducting weekly clean ups of encampments and garbage left by the homeless population, however, the new ordinance broadens the scope of current city ordinances in attempt to curb the situation. The city will give current encampment denizens a 30-day transition period in which HPD will work to assimilate them into public housing alternatives.
The Texas Department of Transportation will also be placing “no camping” signs at underpasses at the behest of Turner, who says he got the idea after he saw similar signs in place at Mexico City.
“We cannot have people setting up tent cities where there are no restrooms or other accommodations to meet basic human needs.” said Turner, “Not only is it unsanitary, but it also deters from the goal of getting people into permanent supportive housing.”
The new ordinance will also go after panhandlers, prohibiting them from obstructing streets and sidewalks. The city will also be using public funds to launch an anti-panhandling media campaign, the goal of which is to discourage people from giving to panhandlers and encourage them instead to donate to charities assisting the homeless.
The whole effort hinges on a massive expansion of a publicly and privately funded homeless shelter, The Way Home, which Turner expects to take in over 500 new homeless individuals in the next six months. The mayor is also asking private shelters and apartment owners to help as well.
The Council will vote on the ordinance at their 9:00 April 12 meeting.