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In effort to prevent COVID-19 spread, City of Houston plans to clean more than 70 homeless encampments by end of 2020

More than 70 homeless encampments will be cleaned from now until the end of 2020.

HOUSTON — Houston is spending $5.5 million in federal relief funds to protect public health and one of the most vulnerable groups from COVID-19: the homeless.

On Thursday morning, Solid Waste Department crews removed debris and disinfected an area underneath the Gulf Freeway at Belfort in Southeast Houston.

It’s one of the more than 70 homeless encampments around freeway underpasses and other infrastructure that about 30 SWD employees have been assigned to clean weekly through the end of 2020.

The CDC says people experiencing homelessness are especially at risk of infection.

“We want to reduce their chances of catching this virus, and one way of doing that is cleaning up these camps, encampments as much as possible,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

The city began the effort in April, with help from City Council members and neighborhood groups to identify sites.

“We’ve been doing these cleanups for quite some time,” Turner said. “We’ve been out here, we’re talking to them. They know we’re not just trying to just move them for the sake of moving them. It is for their benefit.”

CARES Act money is paying for the cleanup and water stations. Federal support has also recently added more COVID-19 testing locations around Houston.

“There’s a site close to you,” Turner said. “All of the city sites are free.”

Turner and Councilmember Robert Gallegos, whose district includes the encampment that was cleaned Thursday, urged everyone to get tested, but especially the Hispanic community. Nine out of 19 COVID-19 deaths reported Thursday by the Houston Health Department were Hispanic.

During a news conference, both officials reminded residents, in English and Spanish, that workers at testing sites will not ask about immigration status.

“We don’t want people to wait until they get so sick and go to the hospital,” Turner said.

On Thursday afternoon in El Paso, Gov. Greg Abbott acknowledged the virus’ impact on the Hispanic community. He warned all Texans against having “COVID fatigue.”

“There are lines open, there are tests available for people, as we’re speaking right now, that people are not going up to getting tested,” Abbott said. “There are tests available for you as we speak, and we strongly encourage everyone to get tested for COVID-19.”

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