Last summer, the Hobby Area District board of directors wrote to Mayor Sylvester Turner and his staff expressing concern about encampments under and along I-45 overpasses within District boundaries. The board saw the encampments as a source of health hazards, blight and potential crime — obstacles that could interfere with the District’s work on economic development, public safety, litter removal and other projects.
The board members mentioned their admiration for the mayor’s productive work on housing the homeless. The strategy has earned national acclaim.
The timely response from the mayor’s special assistant for homeless initiatives, Marc Eichenbaum, was that the city and county were already planning to “decommission” those particular encampment as soon as possible based on resources and adjustments in response to the pandemic.
Now the District and its staff gratefully acknowledge the city’s successful disbanding of the encampments at the freeway interchanges from Airport Boulevard to Monroe Boulevard Jan. 19-20, 2022 and from the Broadway Street to Bellfort Avenue interchanges Dec. 7-9, 2021.
The decommissioning results included the housing of 37 people at the city’s Temporary Housing Navigation Center in northeast Houston, where they receive case management and placement in permanent lodging with support services. Two of the 37 people tested positive for COVID and were moved to the Navigation Center only after first spending time at a city/county recovery center.
Four other individuals were classified as “walk-ups” who asked for help. They were taken to a city/county facility for placement in housing with supportive services. An additional person refused to be transported to housing and was being counseled about housing alternatives.
The encampment properties were cleaned by the Texas Department of Public Safety in coordination with the city Solid Waste Department, the Houston Police Department and other agencies.
Other partners in the decommissioning included the Coalition for the Homeless, Harris Center, METRO, the BARC Houston animal shelter, Harmony House, Healthcare for the Homeless-Houston, the Memorial Hermann healthcare network and others. Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Houston City Council Members Robert Gallegos, Dave Martin and Carolyn Evans-Shabazz provided vital support for the city/county homelessness initiatives, Eichenbaum said.
The police department is responsible for preventing encampments from developing again along the freeway corridor, he explained.
“The Hobby Area District thanks the city and its partner agencies for addressing the encampment issue with positive changes,” District Chairman Charles Watts said. “This is a win-win for our commercial corridors and neighborhoods as well as for the individuals who now have been given the resources they need to avoid being without homes for the rest of their lives.
“The District will continue to monitor the situation along the Gulf Freeway corridor and support the city’s efforts in any way possible, including our ongoing funding of extra law enforcement patrols, litter abatement and other programs,” Watts added.
Eichenbaum added, “As long as there are resources and housing available, the city, the county and the Coalition for the Homeless will continue to decommission encampments in the Hobby District and throughout the city/county.”