HOUSTON – In the prestigious Museum Park neighborhood, an area filled with expensive homes and manicured yards, a new neighborhood has popped up.
It’s an urban campground of sorts, located right beneath U.S. Highway 59 at Wheeler Avenue.
The problem popped up about a year ago.
It started with just a few tents and some couches and chairs, but 12 months later, the encampment has grown to more than 50 tents.
“It’s like a giant cloud has descended over the neighborhood. I mean, every day I wake up and go to work and I drive under the 59 and there’s a guy with his junk hanging all out, just doing his business there in the street. It’s unbelievable and it’s sick,” said Shawn McDermott, who lives in Museum Park.
Residents said it’s not the camp, it’s the people living in the camp, and what they are doing on a daily basis, that is driving homeowners crazy.
“Right here, there are beer bottles, liquor bottles, used toilet paper, feminine napkins, flies all over human crap. I mean, it’s disgusting,” said Kayla Ramsey, a local business owner.
Ramsey said every day residents of the homeless camp, dubbed the Wheeler Camp, wander over to where her office is, drop their pants and defecate all over the front of her place of business.
The day that Channel 2 Investigates walked the property with her, we saw at least eight piles of human waste, covered in flies, all over the property.
“This is horrendous. I mean, I understand their rights, but what about our rights?” Ramsey said while holding her nose to block the smell.
Linda Fuque, a homeowner in the Museum Park neighborhood, said her front door security camera actually captured video of one homeless camp resident walking up onto her porch and then urinating and defecating right in front of her door.
She said the person then rang the doorbell before smashing her security camera to pieces.
“He was swearing on the video clip as he waited for me to answer the door. I mean, what did he want and what would have happened had I answered the door? When I saw what he did, I got sick,” Fuque said.
Beyond the vandalism and defecation, residents said they're sick and tired of the harassment they encounter every time they walk out their front doors.
“They beg for everything. They beg for beer. They beg for money. They beg for cigarettes. They beg for any kind of alcohol. If you say no, they will sometimes bang on the cars or on the fences,” Fuque said.
James Honey, another Museum Park resident, said many of his neighbors are too frightened to walk the streets in their neighborhood anymore.
“What’s going to happen is someone’s going to get killed,” he said.
In fact, while Channel 2 Investigates was in the process of trying to interview one of the homeless residents, another resident of the camp came out of his tent, wildly swinging an aluminum baseball bat and swearing at us.
As he swore and told us to get out, he suddenly pulled out a handgun and pointed at photographer Jon Hill and also at me.
Fearing for our lives, we ran as fast as we could, as he continued to scream at us.
We were able to run away, but as we ran, the gunman threw stones at us and continued to curse at us.
In April, the Houston City Council passed an ordinance effectively banning public encampments.
It prohibited homeless camp residents from erecting tents or setting up temporary shelters in public places and from using camp stoves or grills.
It allowed Houston police to make arrests and fine violators up to $500.
But just days after the law went into effect, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class action suit, claiming the law was unconstitutional and violated the rights of the homeless camp residents.
In August, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking enforcement of the new law.
All of which put the residents of Museum Park who oppose the homeless camp right back at square one.
“What about our rights as homeowners? We pay taxes. We keep our homes clean and we have the right to a livable neighborhood where we don’t have to worry every time we walk outside,” Museum Park resident Shawn McDermott said.