HOUSTON – The City Council is considering whether to expand its controversial “civility ordinance,” which allows police to ticket or even arrest people for sitting or lying on sidewalks.
Supporters say it will help clean up the area just east of downtown. Opponents say it unfairly targets the homeless.
When Philip Boyko moved to a condo near Minute Maid Park eight years ago, he said "one of the things we moved downtown for was the action."
"We've seen sexual conduct, sexual acts directly from this very view," he told KHOU 11 News from his balcony.
His neighbors say that's just the beginning.
"They're panhandling,” Hershel Donny said. “They're (urinating) in the area. Defecating."
So now they're asking the city to expand its "civility ordinance." According to the ordinance, officers are allowed to ask a person to move if they are lying on the sidewalk between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. If that person refuses, the officer can fine them $200 or arrest them.
First passed in 2004, it originally applied only to downtown and Midtown. In 2006, council expanded it to the Old Sixth Ward, the Avondale Area and Greater Hyde Park.
Now residents want to add part of the East End near Minute Maid Park and the site of the new Dynamo stadium.
“It would be a big boon,” Boyko said. “A real plus for this area."
But at the council table Wednesday, some worried this will criminalize homelessness and push the problem into other parts of the city.
"Some of us are one paycheck away from being homeless ourselves," councilmember Wanda Adams said.
Other speakers went further during the public hearing.
"No disrespect,” said Joseph Omo Omuari, who said he lived in the area. “No racism. But downtown Houston is not white people/family friendly. So if you expect to move to downtown Houston and expect the same community as Kingwood, I am sorry."
Janice Burleson was walking by the condos Wednesday. She said she has been homeless about a month – and is staying at the Star of Hope shelter.
"We all make mistakes,” Burleson said. “Some people get up faster than others. But to absolutely rule people out? We're human."
Philip Boyko agreed with that point. He said the purpose of the ordinance isn’t to kick the homeless out, it’s to ensure they act “civilly.”
Since Wednesday's debate was just a public hearing, there's no timetable for when the issue would come up for a vote. Supporters hope it happens within the next few weeks.