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City Seeks to Expand "Civility" Laws

Houston officials may soon add the east end of downtown to areas where the homeless population isn't allowed to loiter. As Laurie Johnson reports — the civility ordinance prohibits panhandling and sitting or sleeping on sidewalks.


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This isn’t the first time people have argued over the civility ordinance. It was first enacted in the year 2000 and applied to parts of downtown.

In 2006, as more of Midtown became gentrified, the city expanded the ordinance.

Once again, the civility law is up for expansion to cover the east end of downtown where condos and townhomes are proliferating and the Dynamo stadium is under construction.

Councilmember James Rodriguez represents the area and says residents and property owners petitioned to have the neighborhood added to the civility ordinance.

“You know I’ve been out and I’ve seen a lot of trash that goes on because of the multiple feedings in the area. We have folks that don’t have access to facilities, restrooms, so they’re defecating in public spaces and actually on private property. And it just seems like that’s going on and on, it’s getting out of hand. So I also think there’s a public health issue here.”

The civility ordinance gives police officers the authority to transport homeless people to shelters if they’re living on the streets.
They can also issue citations to people who violate the law by panhandling in certain areas or blocking sidewalks with their belongings.

Councilmember Wanda Adams says she’s concerned the ordinance does nothing more than cause the homeless to shift from one part of town to another.

“But we have to remember, some of us are one paycheck away from being homeless ourselves. So we have to realize and be compassionate enough — we’re pushing, but what exactly are we doing to help?”

About a dozen neighborhood residents showed up for the hearing to show support for the law. One of them is Jim Olive, a member of the East Downtown Management District.

“We have thousands of cars a day drive by that area that have an impression of our neighborhood, of all of the vagrants and homeless people that are there. And that’s what they see of our neighborhood and that’s what potential developers, potential residents see of our neighborhood. We’re not attracting developers, we’re not attracting residents to our neighborhood because of that.”

But another area resident has a different point of view.

Joseph Omomuari says people shouldn’t move downtown and expect it to be the same as the suburbs.

“I am sorry, you’re not going to get the beautiful schools; you’re not going to have the paved streets — that is not downtown Houston. And if you moved to New York you would have the same problem in New York. I’m not being racist when I say it, but downtown Houston was never a place that was going to be an area that was going to be white family-friendly where you can grow your children up in a stable environment. It’s not that.”

Councilmembers will vote on whether to expand the civility ordinance to East Downtown next week.

They’ll also hold committee hearings on whether the ordinance is effective and what changes, if any, should be made to the policy.