Houston Can Clear Out Homeless Tent Cities: Federal Judge

A federal judge has cleared the way for Houston city officials to enforce an ordinance that prohibits homeless people from setting up tents and temporary living quarters in public places.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, who had blocked enforcement of the law while a civil lawsuit was pending in the courts, lifted his temporary restraining order Thursday and denied a request for a preliminary injunction.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has sued the city, contending the ordinance violates the constitutional protections of homeless people.

"Our clients are now at risk of being arrested just for being homeless. They have nowhere else to go," said Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. "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."

City officials argue the tent cities and encampments, primarily under freeway overpasses, are hazardous to public health and safety.

“Homelessness is a public policy problem that can only be solved by housing, not by arrests,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “Enforcing these ordinances will not end homelessness; it will only displace the homeless themselves, while saddling taxpayers with the bill and creating yet another category of victimless crimes. Should the City decide to seek more effective and humane solutions to this crisis, they will find a stout ally in the ACLU of Texas. Until then, we’ll continue to defend the constitutional rights of Houston’s homeless.” 

Mayor Sylvester Turner tells the Houston Chronicle he's grateful the judge for now is endorsing the city's efforts.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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