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Turner on Houston homeless camps: 'What we face here is danger and disease'

HOUSTON – In the wake of numerous deaths and other criminal activity, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner addressed the public Thursday about the growing number of homeless structures in various encampments throughout the city.

"What we face here is danger and disease," Turner said.

Addressing not only the criminal activity, Turner called on David Persse, health authority for the Houston Health Department, to discuss the health-related issues. Persse said the city has performed "deep cleanings" on the homeless encampment sites and noted the amount of rotted sod from the "huge" amount of human waste. 

VIDEO: Turner talks about homeless camps in Houston

Persse said much of the population there will defecate in the open air, while others use buckets that inevitable tip and spill over, creating a public health concern.

While there is no evidence of hepatitis A in Houston, communities with similar homeless encampment issues, such as San Diego, have had fatal cases of the infection. 

This month, there has been a spike in homicides in and around numerous hot spots for homeless encampments, especially those near Midtown. The mayor is expected to discuss the increase in crime while addressing an ordinance, passed in April, that prohibits temporary structures, tents and unauthorized outdoor cooking devices in public areas. 

That ordinance was later deemed illegal by a Houston judge after the Houston chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the ordinance illegally deprives homeless Houstonians of shelter, infringes on their right to free speech and constitutes a criminalization of homelessness.

On Thursday, Turner said the city will always obey the court's order and will work within its constraints while working on an appeal.

Criminalizing homelessness is illegal, Turner said, but it is also illegal for people to "spend a day on the streets" with generators, cars, big-screen televisions -- the items found in these encampments. 

"This neighborhood deserves better. These people deserve better," he said.