Homeless encampment dispersed, pastor pledges support

Published 12:18 am Wednesday, December 20, 2023

In the days since the City of Port Arthur moved a group of transients from a piece of land at the property owner’s request, the group has dispersed.

Some of the dispersed, such as “Kelly,” have medical issues or use a wheelchair.

The homeless encampment was located in the wooded area on 46th Street near Walmart.

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Kelly’s brother reached out and picked her up, according to Rev. Keith Richards of New World Harvest Church.

Another encampment resident, “George,” was often seen waving at people from a perch constructed on the city’s right-of-way. He and his wife moved to a shed that was offered by a friend of the wife, Richards said.

Others have moved on to different areas, he said.

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bill Bartie said he was told the property had been sold and the new owner wanted the property vacated.

An area where a local transient sat and waved to motorists on 46th Street near Walmart remained in place Tuesday. Authorities said the spot is not on the newly purchased land but is on the city’s right-of-way. (Mary Meaux/The News)

The city had no say in moving the individuals off the property, as they were compelled by the law to do so, according to the mayor.

Bartie is looking to reestablish a homeless coalition to tackle the issue some time in the new year. There is no city-owned shelter to care for the individuals, though there are several nonprofit organizations such as Port Cities Rescue Mission.

Individuals seeking shelter at the Mission are required to have an ID card. If not, staff is available to assist in this, according to information from the organization.

Richards said the Mission and Legacy Homes have other criteria, such as proof of income, which most of the homeless individuals do not have, thus making them disqualified for assistance.

Richards said he has been involved in helping the homeless for approximately five years. He was also involved in assisting the people experiencing homelessness that lived at a covered parking lot on 9th Avenue that was once home to Howard’s Grocery store.

An individual who did not respond to the city when asked to take care of code enforcement issues owned the land on 9th Avenue.

The cleanup of the 9th Avenue property came about after the 60th Judicial District Court authorized the action.

Richards said he had been in contact with the people living in the encampment near Walmart as they would often go to his nearby business for water, use electricity to charge their phones or look for work. His church would help provide food and clothing.

He learned of the eviction issue from one of the men living in the woods.

“The veteran, “Chris,” came out to my shop in tears, bawling, telling me about it and was basically asking for help. That’s when I got seriously involved,” Richards said.

He plans to stay in contact with them and aid them in getting an ID card, medical services and more.

He said approximately 15 people lived in the encampment, most of whom are from Port Arthur/Port Acres Nederland, Groves, Vidor and even Florida and New York.

“These are good people. They watch my shop, protect my shop. They need help. That’s it,” Richards said. “I’m not giving up. It’s a fight.”