Solves It: Museum Park residents voice concerns over homeless camps, safety

HOUSTON – In Houston’s Museum Park neighborhood, misery has a new face.

It’s the ever-growing homeless encampment that sprang up 15 months ago underneath the U.S. 59 freeway at Wheeler Street.

Ever since then, residents have been complaining about filth, open fires burning, crime and defecation and the fear they live with every day.

Now, months after Channel 2 Investigates first exposed this story, those residents are meeting with Councilman Dwight Boykins, who represents that neighborhood.

In August, the councilman agreed to meet with the residents after we asked him for a special meeting with the people of Museum Park.

“The mayor is 1,000 percent behind solving this issue ... he is not running away from it,” Boykins told residents at a special meeting held last week at The Black Labrador in Midtown.

Boykins told the residents that he too lives in the neighborhood and wants a city ordinance banning this kind of encampment enforced but, this past summer, a judge issued a restraining order blocking enforcement of that law.

The problem, according to residents, is that the restraining order was lifted a few weeks ago.

“What’s happening? We have seen zero enforcement,” one angry resident asked.

Boykins said the city will be moving forward to protect residents living near the camp by enforcing the new ordinance, but the city is moving very carefully, to try and avoid another lawsuit from being filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Well, I can tell you, the city’s legal department has taken some very careful steps to make certain that the enforcement of the city ordinance will take place and be done in a very delicate way. It’s going to happen sooner than later,” Boykin said.

We contacted Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office to as what his next move will be, and he responded with this statement:

“The homeless initiatives and the enforcement of the ordinances prior to the issuance of the TRO were working. The tent count was going down, and homeless persons were beginning to accept our help for temporary or permanent supportive housing. The problems escalated after the lawsuit and TRO were filed. Now that the TRO has been lifted, the city of Houston is involved in mediation and we are re-initiating our plan.

“The Houston Police Department Mental Health Division’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) continues to conduct homeless outreach throughout the city.  Priority is given to homeless encampments at Wheeler, Chartres and Bute Park, as well as the Buffalo Bayou and freeway underpasses.

"The outreach team gives verbal warnings and hands out fliers with information about available shelters and permanent supportive housing via The Way Home, a nationally recognized homeless housing and response program.

“The city is taking these steps for both health and safety reasons. As Mayor Turner has often stated, it is essential to strike a balance between addressing the needs of the homeless and giving them an opportunity to live with dignity and, at the same time, take into consideration the neighborhood concerns. Property owners have a right to live without someone setting up makeshift housing on or near their property."