City sending cleaning crews to growing homeless camps under Highway 59

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Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sent cleaning crews to homeless camps. (KTRK)

City crews and environmental contractors will begin deep cleaning two homeless encampments today, at the Highway 59 underpass from Caroline Street to Almeda Road. The cleanup starts at 8 a.m..

Members of the city's health, general services, police, fire and mayor's office will visit the camps to offer those living there a chance to store their personal possessions off site.

The city says the cleanup will then take place, removing trash, debris and fecal matter from the camps. Mayor Sylvester Turner says it's a health hazard to Houstonians.

"What we face here is danger and disease," Turner said in a press conference last week. "In the last 30 days, this has been the site of two homicides and a stabbing. None of us will rest until we put an end to this hazard. Even while we continue to offer housing and care to every homeless Houstonian. We can do better. We should do better."

Turner says homeless camps, also known as tent cities, have doubled since August. The ACLU requested a temporary restraining order be put in place, which blocked the city's anti-encampment ordinance.

"Since the temporary restraining order has been put in place, the number of tents on Chartres Street downtown has dramatically increased. The number of tents at this encampment behind me has gone from about 40 to 102, and the size of the tents has expanded and now people are bringing more items. These encampments are becoming a haven for criminal activity," Turner said.

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City officials said only trash will be hauled away. All personal items will be left at the encampments.

Assistance will also be available for any person who wants to seek shelter elsewhere, but the city says no one will be forced to leave.

Mayor Sylvester Turner's office said these areas are of particular concern because they are home to the largest "tent cities" in Houston.

"It doesn't make sense to allow our residents to live in squalor when we can provide a safer, cleaner area for our homeless population. We continue the fight to balance their rights, versus the rights of residents who live in the area to also have a safer, cleaner neighborhood," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "The work never ends. Homelessness is a complex issue, but we have seen a 57-percent reduction in overall homelessness in the last five years and have permanently housed 8,000 individuals and families since 2012."

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