City performs 'deep clean' of homeless camp under freeway in Midtown area

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The work began early in the morning. Dozens of City of Houston worker gathered up piles of trash, smelly couches and stained mattresses. Most of the stuff, along with dirt covered in feces and urine, went into trash trucks. It was what the Health Department called a "deep clean," necessary because the area under Highway 59 and Caroline had become a public health hazard.

"The cleanup, now I'm with that, because it's very nasty out here, it's very unsanitary," said Trampus Edwards, a longtime resident of the encampment.

The HPD Homeless Outreach Team was onsite providing storage bags for items any homeless person wanted to keep.

Cleaning the site was easy enough. Almost everyone we spoke to said it was long overdue. However, a permanent solution is more elusive. The Mayor's Office offered any person who wanted to, a bed at a shelter and a trip away from the encampment.

"All the homeless here have been offered shelter assistance," said Marc Eichenbaum, Mayor Sylvester Turner's point man on the issue. "We have had outreach here weekly, if not daily basis, for the past nine months."

In the end, only one person asked to be taken to a shelter.

Even though the city passed a stiffer homeless ordinance earlier this year, enforcement has been rare, in part because the ACLU sued the city in federal court. Today, the cleanup was strictly for health reasons, and nobody was forced to leave. The land in question is owned by Texas Department of Transportation, and the State has generally taken hands off approach.

"It's a little surprising that the city's going to get anything done," said Jim Honey, a nearby homeowner who has advocated for moving the homeless out of the encampment. "What we think will happen is, we're going to get Port-A-Cans here, and it's just sending the signal here, that come on down, it's okay."

Honey would like to see the City to relocate the homeless to regulated encampments away from the highway bridge. The Mayor's Office says it's still working on a viable solution. Meanwhile ACLU monitors were on hand today, handing out cards and reminding the homeless they had every right to stay.

At times, nearby homeowners and homeless advocates had tense exchanges, often recorded on each other's camera phones, even as cleanup efforts continued around them.

By lunch time, the entire area was cleared. This afternoon, after a full health inspection the homeless were allowed to move back. Most set their tents back up by 4 p.m.

"I've been out at this part of the bridge, 10 years already, and they're not taking me off," said Edwards.

Report a typo to the ABC13 staff

Copyright © 2019 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.