Houston officials discuss homelessness, panhandling at town hall

Clear Lake, Houston, Dave Martin, Houston City Council, Houston City Council District E, homelessness, panhandling, town hall
Dave Martin, Houston City Council District E member and mayor pro tem, was among several Houston officials who spoke about homelessness and other issues during a town hall meeting March 5. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)

Dave Martin, Houston City Council District E member and mayor pro tem, was among several Houston officials who spoke about homelessness and other issues during a town hall meeting March 5. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)

The topic was capital improvement projects, but the homelessness problem plaguing Clear Lake and the Greater Houston area was the main focus of discussion during a town hall meeting March 5 at Space Center Houston.

According to a homeless count completed by the city in January, nearly 4,000 homeless people live in the Houston area, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

“Based on Houston standards, that is 4,000 too many,” he said.

About 100 nonprofit groups are working together with the city to combat homelessness as part of an effort called The Way Home These groups are working to assist with the substance abuse and mental health issues that can often lead to homelessness while transitioning people off the streets, Turner said.

By the end of the year, officials hope to cut the number of homeless in Houston by one-third.


Houston City Council District E, which includes the Clear Lake area, spent a lot of money last year on police overtime to combat the homelessness problem, especially in the many encampments under I-45, said Dave Martin, District E council member and mayor pro tem.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” he said.

Houston is also partnering with the Texas Department of Transportation because many homeless people live under freeway overpasses and bridges, which are controlled by TxDOT, Turner said.

A Houston police captain said officers go under these overpasses about once every three months and clean up about 60 cubic yards of homeless people’s trash and possessions and throw it away. But each time, three months later, there are another 60 cubic yards of trash to clean in the encampments, the captain said.

The Houston Police Department has a Differential Response Team responsible for, among other things, responding to the homelessness problem.

Houston Police Department Sgt. S. Pham said DRT officers have focused on homeless encampments, panhandling and related issues in Clear Lake. They have observed encampments under almost freeway overpass and panhandlers, some of whom are aggressive, on nearly every corner, Pham said.

“The homeless issue is not just a downtown issue,” Turner said.

DRT officers have tried to give resources to homeless people to help them get off the street, Pham said, but the majority rejected those resources.

Officers have started issuing citations to repeat offenders and arresting people with outstanding warrants. Additionally, Pham said, officers have noticed familiar homeless people from 2019 have left, and new homeless people have taken their place.

Additionally, many of the panhandlers in the area, especially along El Camino Real, either drive to the area to panhandle or live in nearby apartments; Pham said he believes many of them are not homeless.

Pham cautioned residents to not give panhandlers money and urged them instead to donate to organizations that can truly help reduce homelessness.

“The more you give, the more they remain within the area,” Pham said.
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.

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