Mayor outlines plan to remove Port Arthur homeless encampment next week

Published 7:14 pm Thursday, April 14, 2022

The City of Port Arthur is providing a week’s notice that officials would clear a homeless encampment that has developed for several years.

Mayor Thurman Bartie announced the move during a press conference, adding the city’s police department and code enforcement team would be clearing the pavilion at 950 9th Avenue on April 21.

Bartie said the action has been authorized by the 60th Judicial District Court due to a dozen consistent code violations and numerous trespass warnings.

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The land is owned by a private individual, who Bartie said the city has tried to work with his entire three years in office to no avail.

According to the Jefferson County Appraisal District, the property is owned by Dannett Inc. out of Houston. It is frequently called the Howard’s Pavilion due to the former grocer at that location.

Once all property and people are removed, clean-up will begin, followed by the installation of fencing around the location.

Bartie stressed the homeless residents’ removal would not be a violent affair and would include numerous remediation efforts to transition those living there into a structured environment.

He stressed this week’s press conference was specifically called to create a week-long warning and preparation period for the residents, which he estimated were as high as 15 during the daytime.

“My heart goes out to them, and I want to treat them with all respect,” he said. “Because of their mental instability, they don’t really know that they’re endangering themselves.

“We want to treat them with respect. They are human. Just like that song in church, it could have been me outdoors with no food and no clothes. I’m not supposed to just hate on them because of that.”

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie outlines the city’s plan for the removal of a homeless encampment. (Stephen Hemelt/The News)

Removal

Bartie said the Port Arthur Police Department would formulate a removal plan Monday and Tuesday ahead of the designated April 21 action date.

The city is working with several agencies, which Bartie said he did not want to name, in an effort to offer the homeless population a hand up.

City officials did say they are trying to work with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and Workforce Solutions to create a path to a structured reintroduction of society for the homeless community.

Bartie said the greatest challenge facing the effort is untreated mental illness that is prevalent in those in need.

One of the driving factors behind next week’s move, he said, is growing concern from residents who live around the encampment and have experienced declining quality of life.

“Folks who actually live in that area, it is not so pleasant,” Bartie said. “Some of it has to do with the rodents that are just roaming out there. Some of the things that occur include men and women relieving themselves in the open. You know, they are doing some other kinds of horrible things. That is why you know you are dealing with some individuals who have mental health challenges. But, they are comfortable with that style of living.”

According to Mayor Thurman Bartie, the city has worked for years with no success to remedy the homeless situation at 950 9th Avenue, due in large part to a lack of action from the land owner. (Monique Batson/The News)

Plan forward

In March, Bartie announced his decision to form the Port Arthur Coalition for Homeless Advisory Board.

“The idea behind it is, I have noticed just from my own observations, that the encampments are growing,” he said after proposing the idea to council last month. “It’s becoming a national issue.”

According to Housing and Urban Development, more than 360,000 people in the United States experienced homelessness on a single night last year.

The new committee will consist of 14 community members, two picked by each of the seven council members, to identify ways to combat homelessness within the city. The board, Bartie said, will work with various agencies in the community for resources in creating a response system.

The term for each member is two years.

Rosalind Queen, who served 21 years as a nurse in the U.S. Army, was one of the first people appointed to the advisory board.

Councilwoman Ingrid Holmes selected her to serve District 1.

“When Ingrid Holmes asked me to do it, I told her that my concern with the homelessness had to do with the veterans because I am a vet,” Queen said. “She said that’s why she really wanted me to get involved, because being a vet, the homelessness with the veteran community is really important.”

Queen was sworn-in one week ago, but does not know yet what the immediate goals of the board will be.

“But I know it’s a problem and I know we need to fix it,” she said.

— Monique Batson contributed to this report.

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie stood by himself when speaking to the media Thursday about the city’s homeless concerns. (Stephen Hemelt/The News)