Residents living in the homeless encampment under Houston’s 59 overpass got some good news recently when they received a temporary restraining order preventing the city from enforcing its anti-camping ban.
The reprieve did not last long.
Within 48 hours, the residents were forced to leave anyway, as Hurricane Harvey slammed into the region. The hurricane killed 70 people and left a path of destruction in its wake, which included at least 13,500 homes.
“The water was up to five to six feet high in that area,” said Dwight Boykins, city councilor of District D in Houston.
Despite the destruction, those living in the encampment are slowly making their way back, Boykins said. The water has since receded and Boykins estimated that about 30 of the original 70 tents that were in the area have returned. The residents living there are currently being represented by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in a suit challenging an amendment the city made to its Code of Ordinances banning the use of tents in public spaces, the centre said in a statement.
About a week prior to the hurricane, police visited the encampment to issue citations and order those living there to remove their tents. Maria Foscarinis, executive director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said in a statement that those living in the encampment are “simply trying to survive.”
“When shelters are full, people experiencing homelessness have nowhere else to go,” Foscarinis said. “It’s an added cruelty to arrest them for life-sustaining activities such as sleeping.”
Boykins said that he is committed to helping those living in the encampment regardless of how many return. “We have beds available for people to transition,” Boykins said. “This is not an anti-homeless environment.”
Boykins said that the “ultimate goal” of the camping ban is not to make homeless people leave the area but to try and get them help, such as housing solutions and mental health treatment, while acknowledging the situation is complicated.
The city councilor categorised people on the street in Houston as either those who have fallen on hard times, people with mental illnesses, or con artists. “We want to help as many homeless people that want help,” Boykins said. “But these con artists, I don’t have time for [them].”
Courtesy of Street Sense / INSP.ngo