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'Lead the charge': Man writes open letter to Mayor Turner about homeless camps

A local man, who is fed up with growing homeless encampments, has penned an open letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

HOUSTON - A local man, who is fed up with growing homeless encampments, has penned an open letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Blake Robison sent his letter to the mayor directly and posted the message on social media. It details the day-to-day problems the encampments create.

“This weekend, I walked the area and counted over 95 homeless people that are residing long-term in this area. I counted 47 tents. There are at least 5 couches, multiple make-shift fire pits, and an unsightly amount of other trash and debris there,” the EADO resident wrote.

He says the problem has become impossible to ignore.

“This is not what Houston should tolerate. It’s time to quit turning a blind eye and take action. The citizens of Houston, and the employees who drive downtown daily deserve better of our municipality. Maybe you cannot cure the homeless problem, but you most certainly can enforce the laws we have in place and pass new ordinances to make it just a little harder to live this way,” he wrote.

The letter got a lot of neighbors talking on social media.

The City of Houston has grappled with the homeless issue for months.

City council members passed an ordinance banning tents, cooking equipment, and large furniture last year.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city as a result. A federal court issued a temporary restraining order, which stopped Houston from enforcing the ordinance.

However, a judge sided with Houston at the end of last year, lifting the restraining order.

“Now that the TRO has been lifted, the city of Houston is involved in mediation and we are re-initiating our plan,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said Sunday.

The City says crews have cleaned the encampments to help mitigate the health risks.

HPD’s Homeless Outreach team continues to encourage the homeless at encampments at Wheeler, Chartres and Bute Park, as well as Buffalo Bayou and freeway underpasses to seek help.

“In the past six years, over 11,000 homeless individuals have been permanently housed, helping reduce overall homeless by 60 percent since 2012,” said the mayor’s office in a statement, “Mayor Turner is committed to making sure these positive initiatives continue."

However, residents are frustrated by the lack of improvements at the encampments.

“I know the mayor has proven he’s interested in making this better. I think this has been long enough,” said Robison. “I hope he uses this as an opportunity to take a stance and to make the city a better place for those of us who live here and those of us who have to come to work or to visit.”

The following is the full letter sent by Blake Robison on February 19:

“I write you today with a very sincere concern on the increasingly obvious problem that Houston seems to be having with the homeless residents. I purchased my home with excitement to live near downtown, in a district with promising growth and real estate opportunities. Where I live, I am walking distance to the Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park, and George R Brown, which was a major selling point for me to choose to buy in EaDo.

However, I am also just over a mile from what has become Houston’s largest congregation of homeless people- just on the eastern edge of Downtown. This encampment, underneath Interstate 69 (along Chartres Street between Preston and Runnels Street), is growing at a rapidly alarming rate in the recent years. I have seen it grow from a couple-dozen people, in sleeping bags, to what it has become today.

This weekend, I walked the area and counted over 95 homeless people that are residing long-term in this area. I counted 47 tents. There are at least 5 couches, multiple make-shift fire pits, and an unsightly amount of other trash and debris there. On Sunday, I passed a pickup truck dumping off industrial wood debris for the homeless to build a large fire to gather around.

All of this in a public area, within 4 square blocks, in the middle of a major thoroughfare in/out of downtown, completely taking over our tax-funded sidewalks (including the White Oak Bayou Hike and Bike Trail) to a point where they are un-walkable, and offers a major safety and traffic risk along the busy streets of Chartres, N Hamilton, Commerce, Franklin, and Congress.

Every morning on my way to work I pass by this encampment and see the same faces. Every evening on my way home I pass them again. It’s sad and it’s an obvious insult to the quality of life and opportunity that Houston has to offer. More than once I have witnessed fornication on the side of the road. More than once I have been exposed to urination and defecation taking place for the public to witness, on the sidewalk. More than once I have seen narcotics and needles being actively used. More than once I have risked my own safety to dodge the continuous jay-walking along Chartres and Hamilton as I enter and leave downtown to/from the busy interstate.

More than once I have called 9-1-1 for active fights in the streets. More than once I have called 9-1-1 for extremely sick looking people, lying helplessly in the road, in temperatures far below freezing. This area is full of disease and drugs. The litter is so extreme that the all of the naturally existing foliage has died. Our public service agencies are exhausting resources for a problem that is persistently growing, and the city seems to be doing nothing to slow or stop it.

This is not what Houston should tolerate. It’s time to quit turning a blind eye and take action. The citizens of Houston, and the employees who drive downtown daily deserve better of our municipality. Maybe you cannot cure the homeless problem, but you most certainly can enforce the laws we have in place and pass new ordinances to make it just a little harder to live this way.

You have proven that we can take a stance and make this right. In 2017, I witnessed efforts between HPD and Metro PD moving every single homeless person out of this area when we hosted the Super Bowl and the World Series. Days after the events passed, the homeless returned in what seemed to be three or fourfold, and we seem to welcome them with open arms. Why are we allowing this, supporting this, and even allowing them to set up long-term residence in the forms of tents, couches, and BBQ pits?

The homeless deserve better, and so do the tax-paying residents. Take a stance, and quit supporting such a terrible problem. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait until businesses decide to relocate from Downtown Houston. Don’t wait for property tax values to suffer when they should be booming. Don’t wait for someone to get murdered.

Enforce the laws that are already in place. Do not allow tents and shelters on public medians and sidewalks. Do not allow un-affiliated individuals to feed and support this unhealthy and unstable way of life. Support those organizations who provide opportunity, and shelter, and mental support, and healthy lifestyles that get our homeless off the street.

It’s time for the mayor’s office to lead the charge, and the citizens to follow. Lead by example. Do not tolerate these illegal and unstable activities. Educate the citizens on the problems with giving money to panhandlers. Let us help you make this city a better place to live and work.”