Houston City Council Bans Homeless Encampments on Public Property, Panhandling

HOUSTON, Texas — City council members in Houston, Texas have passed an ordinance that bans homeless people from erecting temporary shelters and tents on public property or panhandling on the public streets.

The new rules also ban the homeless from blocking sidewalks or entryways to buildings.

According to reports, the ordinance was presented after area residents complained about aggressive panhandling and other activity on the street, which they found to be a public safety hazard. Some also opined that the encampments detract from the desired image of the city.

“I am pleased that we are addressing this important public safety issue in our city,” council member Mike Knox remarked. “Panhandling in streets is dangerous to both panhandlers and motorists.”

The city says that it would prefer to see the homeless be housed in area shelters, and has been in communication with non-profit organizations such as the Salvation Army and Star of Hope to determine if there are sufficient beds to meet the need. Star of Hope plans to have over 200 beds available in August when it opens its new facility on the city’s south side.

“The whole notion is to strike a balance between addressing their needs and their concerns and putting them in a better position in their lives, and at the same time the neighborhood concerns in terms of people being in their doorway or blocking the sidewalk,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told the Houston Chronicle.

Turner is seeking to house an estimated 500 chronically homeless citizens by the fall, and is also considering building “low level” shelters under overpasses and on private property. He has also asked area landlords to consider providing assistance in instances when they have vacant rental units.

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“We are prepared and want to assist people in getting to a better spot in their lives,” he said. “By passing this ordinance, the tents, they’re not allowed, [and] items that won’t fit in a three-by-three-by-three [container are] not allowed, but we are willing and will continue to work to put people in a better place.”

But Tristia Bauman, a senior attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, expressed concern over the ordinance, stating that it unfairly punishes those who are facing hard times.

“This law as written is constitutionally concerning, and I think it’s very vulnerable to legal challenge,” she remarked to reporters. “To create a punishment for people who are attempting to survive on the street when they have no alternative is a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”

“I see some effort in the way the ordinance is drafted that officers are taking the first step to get people services. It’s a great gesture, but it’s just not enough,” Trisha Trigilio, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas, also told the Houston Press. “If there’s not enough beds for people to sleep in, it’s unconstitutional for them to be punished for it.”

One couple also appeared before city council to testify that when they found themselves homeless, a church helped them get a tent, which provided a safe place to store their belongings while they searched for employment.

“Because we had a tent, I’m no longer homeless,” the wife, only identified as Mrs. Proctor, stated. “You’re toting your life in a bag when you’re homeless. You literally tote your life in a bag. And you can’t leave it somewhere, because the city will throw it away. You cant get a job when you’re toting your life in a bag either. How do you go to a job interview when you have two suitcases and five backpacks?”

The encampment ordinance will go into effect in 30 days and is stated to still allow people to sleep outside if desired.

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  • I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
    Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

  • nineleven

    some historians believe that sodom was judged and destroyed by the Lord (aside from it sexual sins) for its cruel and unjust treatment of visitors and strangers. when a nation starts disfavoring its poor, its judgment is near.

    • AustinRocks

      Those “historians” tend to be gay, so naturally they choose to misinterpret the story of Sodom.

      • nineleven

        AR, I was referring to his ancient historical references such as the babylonian talmud. and as the LORD says, it was their sexual sins along with their inhospitality to strangers. In the Lord’s eyes, Sodom got the punishment that they deserved.

    • Grace Kim Kwon

      Sexually sinful people or sexually depraved nations do not care about anyone; the number of human victims only increases. Feminists and humanists do not care about human rights of anyone; they just want immorality to prevail. They are slaves to Satan. Charity is done by those who follow Jesus Christ.

  • Grace Kim Kwon

    Only the Church treats the homeless people as people. Lawfulness means nothing if it opposes the Christian teachings.

  • MaryAnn Smith

    I am very grateful for Mayor Sylvester Turner and our city council members who have taken action to keep everyone safe. Christians play a vital role as we help alleviate tax burdens with the volunteer work we offer. There are many good non-profits will staff qualified to serve the homeless community. However, not every community should be forced to entertain the homeless. The unfortunate truth is that Houston has many children who live in homes and they are still starving. 28% of criminals released onto Houston’s streets suffer from mental illness. And our children should not have to face these dangers place there by those of us who are called Christians. Signed, rape survivor by a beggar I was trying to help.