On October 30 the New Orleans City Council Quality of Life Committee held a meeting to discuss the official plan to end street homelessness in New Orleans. UNITY New Orleans was awarded $15 million by the federal office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to house 420 homeless people, which will be combined with funds New Orleans has received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as part of the Unsheltered Initiative. The initiative, spearheaded by New Orleans’ Director of Homeless Services and Strategy Nate Fields, aims to rehouse 1,500 people by the end of 2025, beginning with those sleeping on the streets. However, this ambitious plan—which purports to include move-in costs and furnishing apartments for currently unhoused people, as well as case management services—has begun with the City going after encampments under the Crescent City Connection overpass on Calliope Street and threatening to impose fines on those who remain. Firsthand observation shows less tents under the overpass, but more people seemingly pushed to the Uptown side on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, now without the benefit of minimal shelter from the elements. Councilmember Oliver Thomas voiced skepticism over the plan, saying he could remember “all the other efforts” to eliminate homelessness. Meanwhile local advocacy group New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly posted to Instagram: “Hastily creating policies and swiftly moving people out of sight, out of mind is a surefire way to have chaos brewing in a hot second. If there’s no massive investment in safe and healthy housing stock, then formerly unhoused folks will find their ways out on the street. We have seen it time and time again because we have talked with people facing these issues who abandon slumlord units due to physical health issues.” The post noted that a man named Mr. Dwayne died after being relocated to substandard housing and chose to remain on the streets. Renters Rights Assembly then implored the Council to put greater investment into rebuilding and social programming. The following are a selection of in-person and online comments submitted before the committee.
UNITY, what is the vetting process for landlords? The last thing I personally want to see is some of these landlords, who have current and past prolonged, repetitive code enforcement infractions be awarded with these tenants. They have proven themselves to be unlawful and uncaring and they should not be included in the process. The Willows being one that I will call out.1M. (in-person)
I’m a part of the shelter, for the past 18 months, after being told I was on a list for housing. After 18 months, I was due to have cardiac surgery, and I can’t have it. I’m between a rock and a hard place. And I’m sitting here, hearing all the congratulations for the programs that y’all are getting started. I’m a retired engineer and chef, been halfway round the world and back. And I never thought I’d come home to this, come here and listen to this… I mean, it’s rhetoric to me. I can’t move, if I have the surgery; I can’t have the surgery if I’m on the street. I pick up a portable tent. I’m 65 years old, I can’t work fast food anymore. I came up in the Desire projects. I feel like I’m going back in time. Everything that used to work is broken.2Rico L. (in-person)
I was homeless for more or less eight years. My father, who is certainly older than I am, is still homeless. He lives on the front porch of an old lady in Tucson, Arizona because he cannot sleep inside. He can lay down inside buildings but he cannot sleep. Call it mental illness if you wish, but truth of the matter is, if you offer him a bed inside with the expectation that he will sleep in it, he will not. And it is not because he is evil. It is because he cannot sleep. And if you go three days without sleep, you start having what you call an attitude problem. So not everybody on the street wants to be inside. Not everybody on the street can be inside. And if we’re setting up a system that involves $15 million, then we need to deal with people that cannot sleep inside. Whether we want them to or not. They too are children of God. They too have the right to sleep, and if they have to sleep outside, then we as a society need to find a place where we can tolerate them sleeping outside. We have a motorhome resort very near North Claiborne. Nice quarter-million dollar motorhome. You’d never know it because there’s a nice concrete block wall that breaks the visuals. They have access to a building in which there’s showers and in which there is a laundromat, and a waiting room with a television set. We could build something [for] the least of us if we felt like it. We already build it for the rich among us.3Michael B. (in-person)
I’ve said it before and will continue to say that the end game of all homelessness policies should be housing people as soon as possible, with the exception of those who do not want to sleep inside, as [Michael B.] brought up. And we can do that. We can’t do that without making significant social investments and getting affordable housing, maintaining our existing housing stock, and addressing the needs of our unhoused community and low-income renters. And by doing so, as Councilmember Thomas pointed out, we have to do the work of undoing the legacy of housing discrimination and segregation. And so I think we can show our commitment to this with real solutions like dedicating our own City money annually without completely relying on federal funds to solve these problems. So we were very pleased to see from Councilmember Harris the creation of a new Housing Trust fund; it’s a really smart first start to using our own funds to address our housing crisis.4Monique B., Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (in-person)
The unhoused has a ripple effect throughout the community. It impacts the availability of healthcare resources, crime and safety, the workforce, and the use of tax dollars. Addressing the unhoused population will take concentrated efforts amongst all districts to coordinate an approach to end homelessness citywide to delivering assistance services to the vulnerable, housing, and crisis response programs and increasing jobs and liveable pay wages. Until the City corrects and implements those challenges the unhoused will increase.5Desha Greely (online)
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