HOUSTON — It's not an eviction notice, but dozens of homeless Houstonians are being forced to temporarily evacuate an area under Highway 69 as city crews move in for a cleanup project.
"The city is here to help the homeless," said Marc Eichenbaum, the special assistant to the mayor on homeless initiatives. "The Chief Medical Office of the city of Houston declared this to be a public health emergency. We're required by state law to clean it up immediately."
Though the overpass is starting to smell a little ripe, some dwellers have been quick to relocate while others are somewhat reluctant. The smell has plagued nearby residents and business owners for some time.
“Nobody deserves to live like that, the residents and the businesses are suffering out here also. Every day, we have human feces in our parking lot when we get here in the morning,” business owner Kayla Ramsey said.
Eichenbaum explained, "There standing urine, there’s feces, there’s maggots. We’re out here to clean that up so that the homeless have a safe place to reside in if they choose to be here."
Despite rumors of it being an unexpected evacuation, those living below the overpass were notified all week long that the cleanup was coming.
“They doing something healthy for us, man," Jamarcus McCray said. "We pee right there. We feces over there. There's people laying there sick. And what the city did was pass around this white piece of paper that said that ‘hey man, 8 o’clock, Thursday morning we’re going to come through here. Pack up what you can take. We’re going to storage what you can’t. What you don’t want you leave here, we’re going to come out here and sanitize— clean this up. And then y’all can come back.'"
And that’s just what happened. Clear bags meant storage, and what wasn’t bagged is headed for the dump.
Areas were power-washed, treated with bleach, and the grass in the area was cut down.
One small problem though, everyone out here had “their spot,” a territory that evolved over time.
A portion of the ‘real estate’ won’t be available tonight when folks come back, because a fence will be going up in a section of the underpass between Austin and La Branch streets, where a parking lot is going in for one of the local businesses.
That’s where homeless advocates are trying to step in and help.
“What I am going to do, while the city is doing the cleanup, is walk up to the homeless people that are still in the area and find out if they want to go to section A, which is in the front, or section C, which is in the back, because we want to make sure that everyone’s going to get along,” explained advocate Shere Dore.
The city measured to make sure everyone that was there would still have room, and they say that’s the case.
As much as this is a community of people that look after one another, no community is without conflict, and with everything else they have to deal with, a sudden shift in turf is the last thing anyone wants.
The community will be free to return to its original spot Thursday night.