Homeless encampment cleanup begins after public nuisance declared by health authority

HOUSTON – The homeless encampment under Highway 59 from Caroline Street to Almeda Road is being cleaned up Friday after the health authority declared it to be a public nuisance.

The authority declared the area a public nuisance due to human waste, mosquitoes, flies, garbage and other conditions that can make people sick.

"No one is being punished because he or she is homeless, but we are facing a public health hazard," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "We want to get people off the streets and into housing. This is a shared public space. We want to protect the safety and health of both the homeless and local residents."

"This is our third time to do it (the cleanup), the last two times produced over 15 tons of debris and material," said Marc Eichenbaum, a special assistant to the mayor.

The cleanup began Friday at 8 a.m.

"You can't force somebody to go somewhere, (but) yeah, it does need to be cleaned up," Colleen McElroy, a homeowner in the area, said.

Notices in English and Spanish were distributed to people living under the bridge. The notice also said people can return to the area after the city takes care of the "unhealthy conditions."

"Ever since Turner took office, he's been picking on the homeless," said Terry Nations, a homeless Houstonian. "I don't expect to be treated like a king, I didn't work for it, but I am crazy and now the city of Houston has taken my housing and I'm stuck out here."

While a number of neighbors who live nearby are fed up with the camps, one woman who wanted to remain anonymous also remained sympathetic.

"It's not good for them to be living under the underpass," the woman said. "Some of the people, if they have mental heath issues, they're not addressed. The city needs more beds, not only this neighborhood but most neighborhoods."

"I don't have a problem with them cleaning it up, but are they going to let us back in there?" Teresa Galaspey said.

The Houston Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team, along with other city departments, will be available to provide information about housing, social services and mental health care to residents of the encampment, according to the city.

"I've been living here for a long time and you see it, they're going to fence the area off and that's going to be the end of it, sadly," Glen Samual, who lives at an apartment nearby, said.

"We're offering them shelter. We've had outreach teams here pretty much everyday for an entire year and we're working on permanent solutions like long-term housing and services," Eichenbaum said.

The city said it is not sure how long the cleanup will take.