Residents considering lawsuit to get rid of homeless tent camps

The mayor's new ordinance banning anyone from setting up tents on public property went into effect more than a month ago, but some say the problem hasn't improved.  So residents are calling for something to be done about the saturation of homeless people in an area in Third Ward.

Although it’s illegal, dozens of tents are still set up around the area of San Jacinto and Highway 59 in a location that runs right through a neighborhood.  So in some cases, homeless tent encampments are set up in some residents' backyards.

The homeless problem and all that comes with it, "the cursing, the fights that take place.  Human feces in your front yard, trash,” explains one neighbor.  That’s what residents say they are battling.  Plus, they say there's non-stop drug use, sex acts and thefts.

"I had a bike stolen.  I caught one stealing a sewing machine I had in my driveway,” says resident James Honey.

"It's the worse I've ever seen it in the 46 years I've lived in the neighborhood,” adds another resident.

They thought the problem would improve after the mayor’s ordinance banning tents on public property went into effect in May but they're still pitched.  "We’ve crossed a critical mass.  These people under there are angry, hostile, entitled. I can’t go under there.  They start screaming at me,” says Honey.

“You don't invite people over, especially older people.  They're afraid.  They don’t want to come to my house.  I go to theirs instead,” explains another resident.

"What they have down there, it’s the Wild West.  There’s no protection for anybody, especially for women.  It’s open season on them.  What we need are sanctioned camps,” says Honey.  The mayor’s office says it’s awaiting city council members to recommend sites for sanctioned camps.
Residents say they have compassion.  "Is it enough places to put these people somewhere so they'll live comfortably?  It makes me very sad,” says Lenora Thompson but residents say they fear what will happen if nothing is done about the problem.  So they are talking about filing a class action lawsuit against the City of Houston to get the tents removed.

"I’d be glad to.  I’ve been helping them look for attorneys,” say Honey.

"I just feel it's time some action is taken,” says another resident.

Sheila, a homeless woman, says she has been attacked in the camp.  "Beaten twice and robbed twice, choked and everything,” she says.  

"We’re sitting on a time bomb,” adds Honey.  
While residents are fighting to have the tents removed, the ACLU has already filed a lawsuit against the city to keep the tents in place.  The mayor’s office says public safety is a priority and points out several homeless people have already been placed in housing.  Some who remain in tents have also been ticketed.  Those who receive too many citations will be arrested.  The mayor’s office says enforcement is underway but the city is also encouraging residents to report illegal activity such as public urination and defecation, so the city can have a record.