Judge dissolves order blocking enforcement of encampment ordinance

A U.S. district judge dissolved a temporary restraining order on Thursday that blocked the enforcement of a Houston city ordinance that bans encampments in public places.

Mayor Sylvester Turner's Office released this statement:

Mayor Sylvester Turner expressed relief today that U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt has dissolved a court order blocking enforcement of a city ordinance that bans encampments in public places.

“I’m grateful that the judge has for now essentially endorsed the city’s effort to strike a balance between preserving personal freedoms of every Houstonian and eliminating threats to public health that have developed at and near encampments on public property in the center of the city,” the mayor said.

“My staff, including my special assistant for homeless initiatives, and Houston Police Department commanders will meet to decide how to move forward with enforcement of the ordinance,” the mayor added. “What will not change are continuous efforts by city departments, local non-profit agencies and HPD to place encampment residents in short-term and long-term housing.”

Those efforts have reduced homelessness in Houston by about 60 percent in the last six years.

Along with dissolving his Aug. 22, 2017 temporary restraining order that blocked enforcement of the ordinance, the judge scheduled the case against the ordinance for trial sometime after Dec. 3, 2018. The lawsuit against the ordinance had been filed four people on behalf of themselves and other homeless individuals.

In denying the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction against the ordinance, the judge wrote that testimony presented by the city Legal Department “establishes that allowing the encampments to continue in their current condition poses a greater detriment to the city and its residents more so than any harm that may result from the City’s enforcement of the ordinance.”

“Since the (temporary restraining order) has been in effect, instances of homeless persons having been seriously injured or killed at or near the encampment sites have been reported; trash and waste have accumulated, causing health hazards for both the general public as well as the inhabitants of the encampment sites; and members of the general public are precluded from using the spaces as originally intended, due to the erection of temporary living structures at these sites. The sites have no plumbing, sanitation or trash pick-up.

“Dr. David Persse, the City’s Public Health Authority, testified that the encampments create an environment whereby communicable diseases may be transmitted to the inhabitants, neighboring communities and the general public at large. Finally, the City has expended thousands of dollars, reportedly removing over 16 tons of waste from the Chartres and Wheeler encampment sites. A preliminary injunction would only enable trash, pests, and human waste to continue to fester, creating a health nuisance for the community at large.”

The ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to use tents and similar temporary structures for living accommodations on public land.


ACLU of Texas Senior Staff Attorney Trisha Trigilio released this statement:

Our clients are now at risk of being arrested just for being homeless. They have nowhere else to go. Sheltering yourself is not a crime, it is a basic human need, and our clients will continue to fight for the dignity and the rights of Houston's homeless population. In the meantime, and in the spirit of the season, we have called on the City to delay enforcement until they seriously explore humane alternatives to arrest-like building more affordable housing.