The City of Houston is striving to create solutions for people experiencing homelessness. It’s estimated that there are 4,400 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons in Harris County, Fort Bend County and Montgomery County combined.
Westchase District is not immune from the situation as more homeless encampments pop up in our area.
To better understand the issue, Don McKinney, vice president of public safety for Westchase District, hosted a presentation by the Houston Police Department Homeless Outreach Team (HOT).
Speaking to the Westchase District Public Safety Alliance, Sgt. Roger Espinoza, team leader, said HOT is comprised of one sergeant, six HPD officers, one Metro PD officer, one senior police service officer, and three case managers from the Harris Center for Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).
Dedicated Team to Help the Homeless
Sgt. Espinoza said HOT collaborates with several organizations and agencies to help the homeless obtain shelter referrals, social security cards, housing, medical care, mental health treatment, homeless ID’s and bus fare. These services help provide for the safety and wellbeing of people while helping to transition them away from homelessness.
“We want to mitigate the problem and see people live in a better way,” said Espinoza. While passers-by might be tempted to give a dollar or more to panhandlers, HOT encourages people to support service providers and partner organizations because their donations go further. There are many organizations that serve meals and provide showers, mental health and substance abuse counseling which help the homeless transition to sheltered housing.
Court Injunction Limits Enforcement
Moreover, there are limits to what law enforcement can do. Three years ago a city ordinance made it illegal to set up tents or any other living structure (encampments) in a public place. The ordinance, which had been in effect in other cities as well, was soon challenged by an ACLU lawsuit. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit tossed out the restrictions. The judges ruled that the Constitution does not allow prosecuting people for sleeping outdoors if there is no shelter available.
Despite challenges presented by the ruling, HOT’s engagement efforts seek best results in communities for effective solutions.
Omar Sesay, a program director with The Bristow PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) Homeless Program, described the mental health treatment and supportive services that PATH provides to homeless individuals diagnosed with mental illness.
“Each case is different. There are unique circumstances that lead to someone becoming homeless,” said Sesay.
Attendees asked what could be done when the homeless disrupt their local businesses. Owners and managers of a property have a right to execute a Trespass Affidavit which authorizes HPD to enter the premises to enforce all applicable trespass laws on their behalf for a private property located in the city of Houston. If you’d like to execute a Trespass Affidavit on behalf of your business, email Don McKinney, email@example.com, or call 713-780-9434.