Federal judge rules on Houston’s homeless encampment clean up battle

In this Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, photo, dozens of homeless people live beneath an overpass for Interstate 59 in Houston. Many of the inhabitants of the tent camp braved Hurricane Harvey there and shrug off the severity of the storm, even as advocates for the homeless fear the aftermath could hit them hardest. (AP Photo/Matt Sedensky)

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After a federal judge ruled against an injunction requested by the ACLU, the City of Houston will proceed with its plans to clean up homeless encampments across town.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt issued the ruling this week, overturning a temporary restraining order against the city and effectively allowing officials to enforce Houston’s policy against setting up tents or other temporary shelters in public spaces.

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Under the city’s ordinance, setting up tents or shelters can be grounds for a misdemeanor.

“While this court is indeed sympathetic to the impact that enforcement of the encampment ordinance on unsheltered homeless individuals poses, the court recognizes the city’s police powers to enact and enforce reasonable legislation that promotes the health, safety and general welfare of all Houston residents,” Hoyt wrote in part of his decision.

As Rare previously reported, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office said the camps are a health hazard to the community, as well as a breeding ground for crime.

Under his leadership, the city sought to clean up the “tent cities,” which officials maintain are rapidly expanding in underpasses, potentially preventing homeless individuals to services available to help get them off the streets, given the comfortability they may provide to the displaced and, often, mentally ill individuals.

Shortly after Turner’s policies went into effect, the city reportedly became forced to stop their efforts to combat homelessness, as the ACLU fought on behalf of those living in the encampments.

Earlier this year, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against the city while the court considered the case.

Although the restraining order ultimately remained in place, city officials reportedly worked to temporarily remove the homeless from the camps in order to clean up human waste, contaminants and debris as part of an effort to prevent a health threat.

“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,” Turner said in a statement after the ruling this week.

RELATED: Houston business owner cited after reporting feces left by homeless

The new ruling is a temporary victory, however, as a civil case is ongoing:

Four plaintiffs represented by the ACLU are suing the city beyond injunctive relief, claiming that the ordinance violates the constitutional rights of the homeless.

Stay tuned, Houston.

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