In July, New Orleans’ City Council Quality of Life Committee introduced several ordinances which would allow police to further harass unhoused people in New Orleans, seize their property, and criminalize New Orleanians providing food aid to their neighbors. The ordinance criminalizing food aid received the most attention—the majority of over 200 public comments decried the measure as morally bankrupt. The measure explicitly targets people distributing food to unhoused people “under or adjacent to an elevated roadway or within or adjacent to any encampment area,” blames “unregulated food and beverage distribution” for “litter and rodents,” and threatens to impose fines on those who violate the ordinance by feeding people without meeting certain guidelines. Eugene Green, who introduced the measure with fellow Councilmembers Oliver Thomas and Freddie King III, claimed that the ordinance was meant to ensure food safety and prevent “dumping,” and that it would not be used to impose fines on people distributing food “responsibly.” However, similar laws have been passed around the country and are used to target food distribution and the groups that organize survival aid to unhoused people, who suffer exposure to extreme heat and cold conditions, lack access to bathrooms and showers, and lack access to health care.
A second measure on the agenda was a proposal by Councilmember Lesli Harris (the committee chair) to create a publicly funded campaign that would “direct individuals and organizations to donate money to local charities” rather than provide direct aid. A third ordinance would make it easier for City officials, including police, to seize and destroy property from unhoused people by redefining and restricting protections on personal property. During encampment “sweeps,” people’s belongings are routinely confiscated and destroyed. The following are a selection of comments submitted online to the committee.
The fact these motions are being put before the council is very disturbing to me. We don’t want to criminalize feeding of the homeless in any situation. The council should instead be looking at more ways we can help the unhoused and underfed with shelter and food. Punishing those already at the bottom and those who are trying to help them reeks of fascism.1Alec V.
Mutual aid is a major part of the New Orleans community and in Louisiana. We know how to help each other when we’ve been left to fend for ourselves time and time again. I ask that you reconsider these ordinances and how they will be harmfully used by police in clearing camps of people and their belongings and preventing people from giving aid.2Charlotte F.
I worked as a municipal attorney for a decade before changing my career and any time any ordinance that even sniffs at the 4 you are proposing today would cause me to have serious discussions with the staff proposing them in the municipalities I worked for… I don’t understand when government decided that people who suffer from a lack of housing, some of which is caused directly by the actions of this council, are no longer people and should be penalized for existing in poverty. Are the lives of homeless people not hard enough? What is wrong with you? Have you no morals? Have you no conscience? How any of you could ever claim to have anything resembling faith while treating fellow people this horribly is beyond me.3Lisa T.
The unhoused folks who are the object of today’s discussions are your constituents also. What are the intentions of this policy? To starve out our unhoused kin? No one should be penalized for providing food to someone who is hungry. If food waste is a concern, provide sanitation in the form of trash cans, dumpsters, and regular trash pick up service.4Micah M.
In the middle of a historic heatwave and housing crisis, this is appalling. How is this different from conservative efforts to ban giving aid to those crossing the border? How does this ordinance help anyone other than those who hope a problem disappears if they don’t see it? Giving food to those in need is a good thing. Moralizing about ‘enablement’ misses the point. How about New Orleans ‘enables’ people to find affordable housing by imposing rent controls and banning AirBnB? Or improving public transportation to make it possible to get to jobs?5Kara L.
Taking away people’s possessions makes it harder for them to get jobs, because they need things like identification, phones, clothing, etc. in order to get a job. You take away their medications, and they die. This is cruel and doesn’t help the underlying problems causing poverty.6Tiffany F.
The amendment utilizing statute on obstructing sidewalks is dangerous to the unhoused. Police will interpret law to enforce whatever they want to, and this amendment will empower officers to seize and destroy with little discretion or accountability.7Bob M.
For a city that claims to be guided by the teachings of Jesus, you certainly aren’t being very Christian. Here’s a quote from Proverbs 22:9 “whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” You are specifically criminalizing the act of caring for our neighbors. People already directly impacted by the hamfisted policies this city council has passed related to unregulated overuse of short term rentals among other despicable ordinances. Things are bad enough out there. The climate collapse guarantees that we will see more premature death of our most vulnerable populations. And you’re out here trying to make things worse for people who are food and housing insecure? Shame on you.8Evelyn
This ordinance is simply unconscionable. The groups providing food to our unhoused neighbors should be receiving funding not fines (but the council would rather fund an idiotic communications campaign). It is clear that this ordinance is an attempt to further push houseless people from under the overpass because the city council doesn’t like how this appears to their precious tourists. If the council wishes to actually address homelessness they should be advocating for affordable housing, well funded community mental health services and higher wages for workers.9Ruth M.
As a volunteer who distributes food to the homeless every week, I find this proposal shocking in its cruelty. Many of the people I provide food to have gone days without eating, and volunteer organizations are the only organizations trying to prevent our unhoused neighbors from starving to death. These are human lives. Banning people from distributing food to our unhoused neighbors where they live will not erase the problem of homelessness in our community, it will only further punish our neighbors who already have so little.10Ed S.
Why are y’all trying to kill houseless people? Surely, some of the NOPD budget can be re-allocated to house these humans instead of trying to eliminate their food resources and disappear them.11J K.
As a New Orleanian that has both experienced homelessness and been part of community groups working to support those experiencing homelessness I oppose this ordinance. We need city council to make housing more available. We need rental protections. Rent prices are crazy high or else we wouldn’t have so many people on the street. The house I rented in 2017 for $525 is now listed as $1500. Our wages haven’t gone up. There’s no tenant protections. We need our city council members to spend their time and resources protecting New Orleanians, not passing ordinances that punish us, and furthering complex cycles of trauma that keep the people in this city struggling… We need affordable housing and dignified wages.12Savannah L.
These efforts are disgusting and shameful displays of fascist bullying. Choosing to go out of your way to punish unhoused people for existing, choosing to characterize their lives as a plight on those with more material wealth than them, and choosing to discourage the people who help them with acts of human solidarity—these are the choices of cowards and villains. Claiming that these measures are in the interest of public health is a lie on its face and you all know that. These are the types of proposals that treat the victims of our city’s failure to provide equitable housing, sanitation, and safety as the causes of those problems. We won’t address the violent and inhumane conditions of our societies inequity by trying to sweep human beings that face the brunt of it under the rug, we’ll only deepen the divide. These are some of the most cruel proposals I’ve ever heard. There is a deep spiritual rot at the foundation of these proposals.
Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.13Benjamin H.
This is dumb. Y’all could choose to not be dumb.14Timothy A.
To follow up on this issue, you can email your City councilmembers. To submit a public comment, follow instructions at council.nola.gov. Interested in reading all comments after a meeting? You can email your councilmember or file a public records request.
illustration by Sadie Wiese