Concerned by crime, city officials believe a “Civility Ordinance” could make Houston feel safer

In this Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 photo homeless Korean War veteran Thomas Moore, 79, adjusts his hat while wrapped in a blanket on a sidewalk in Boston. Moore, who said he accidentally killed his best friend with a phosphorous grenade during one firefight and spent months afterward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, also said he has no interest in getting a government-subsidized apartment. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

On Wednesday, Houston City Council passed a second ordinance extending the areas where people are banned from sitting, lying or sleeping on the sidewalk.

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The so-called “civility ordinance” prohibits people from sitting or lying on sidewalks in specific areas between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., covering an area east of Interstate 45 to Hardy Street, above Hogan Street and beneath Boundary Street.

The two ordinances, the first of which passed in October, came in the wake of Near Northside residents seeking a solution for homeless people wandering through the neighborhoods and sleeping on the sidewalks.

Residents also voiced concerns about the increase in crime, such as theft, violence and drug use, sometimes occurring with large groups of homeless vagrants.

RELATED: Federal Judge Blocks Houston Homeless Ordinance

Stella Mireles Walters, founder of the community group Safe Walk Home, was one of the voices supporting the new ordinances:

“My hope is that [the new ordinance] will deter some criminal elements from manifesting in the neighborhood,” she said in an interview with a local newspaper.

The calls for tighter restrictions on vagrancy grew louder after the May 2016 murder of 11-year-old Josue Flores, who was stabbed to death while walking home from Marshall Middle School.

The primary suspect was a homeless veteran who, at the time, was staying at a nearby Salvation Army shelter, although, prosecutors later dismissed the charges after DNA evidence cleared the man as a suspect.

RELATED: Houston Orders Homeless to Leave ‘Tent City’ Underpass in Midtown

Some groups continue to call into question the effectiveness of a civility ordinance in preventing violence.

In an interview, Tristia Bauman, a senior attorney with the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty, for example, said that such laws “could mean higher concentrations of homeless people in other public spaces that have not yet been regulated to forbid those activities, which will present its own set of problems.”

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