On January 10, the New Orleans City Council Community Development Committee met to discuss the next step in New Orleans’ dissolution of homeless encampments. The City aims to house 1,500 people by 2025, in an initiative helmed by the Cantrell administration’s Nate Fields, while UNITY of Greater New Orleans is handling $15 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for permanent housing for people living on the street. However, the plan’s opening act has been to forcibly evict unhoused people living in encampments around the city. The first encampment to face such treatment was on Tchoupitoulas Street. At the January meeting, officials were planning the next encampment eviction in the Treme, on Claiborne Avenue and Governor Nicholls Street. The plan is to “close” the encampment on February 9. From the last encampment clearing (Tchoupitoulas overpass), City officials claimed 27 people had been housed, with 35 people waiting to be housed. The meeting seemed tense, as Councilmember JP Morrell (At-Large) argued that there may not be enough housing stock to continue as planned. Later in the meeting, Councilmember Eugene Green (District D) appeared to chide a formerly unhoused man giving public comment on why he was not providing more help to currently unhoused people. One landlord got up on the podium to complain he shouldn’t be asked to rent to formerly unhoused people. Multiple speakers commented that UNITY should not be blamed for the plan’s chaotic approach. The following is a selection of in-person comments submitted before the committee.
I’m here on behalf of New Orleans DSA, which has about 4 to 500 dues-paying members. I don’t pretend to know what’s going on behind the scenes on the city’s side, but I do know it takes this city over a year to pave a street. To see the “circular firing squad” going on of officials blaming UNITY, it’s frustrating and offensive. It’s hard to find housing; landlords are sometimes unwilling to rent to people who are formerly unhoused. It’s hard for me to find affordable housing, and I have basically every advantage in the world. I would love it if the council could actively help these orgs locate the housing. I would love to see collaboration. But I do think that watching this process, it’s pretty irresponsible. These hard deadlines, we risk shifting blame to the organizations and the homeless themselves, when the blame belongs to generations of City officials, not necessarily anyone up here, but generations of officials who neglected these issues. Unhoused people are not criminals by virtue of having nowhere to go. The majority are regular people who are suffering. This issue didn’t appear out of thin air, it’s the result of decades of neglecting affordable housing. I’m worried the unhoused will be punished if the deadlines prove impractical. I’m already hearing talk about bringing in state troopers or even taking vigilante efforts clearing the encampments and that’s horrifying to me. I hope this council makes it clear that that’s not acceptable.1Jack R.S., New Orleans DSA
I’m here on behalf of people with handicaps. Who need help. I was one of the ones—I’m a diabetic. I lived out there on the streets for four years. Wasn’t able to get my medicine, my insulin. It was just hard for me. They need to come up with a solution for people with handicaps that need help. The people out there with amputations—we need to come up with a solution for the handicapped people. They need help too. We all need help. 2Anthony T.
I’ve been homeless twice in my life. Now I was taken in by my family that took care of me and my community. Let’s just talk about transitional housing. All right, like we have seven schools that will be shut down. So is there any way that we could utilize some of these facilities or treatment programs or places that we can really help people? From what I hear, you all got paid, but somebody’s not keeping up with your books. You seem like you have all the power. And it’s not just about transitional housing, they’re gonna need wraparound services. I’ve been to over 70 kids’ funerals. But I’ve been homeless before, understand how it is, and I was a child. But that was my mom’s condition that put us in that condition. This is not a new story. We gotta figure out what we gotta do and stick to the plan.3Michael W.
I’ve been here all my life, I’m in this situation, I’m homeless. It’s been a back-and-forth thing, trying to find houses. You gotta wait for this, you gotta wait for that. I have three kids, it’s been four months. I didn’t come here for me, I came here for the community. I’m seeing too much, in the City of New Orleans, that I never seen in my entire life. It should be a wraparound community help. And we not seeing that, and we not getting that. And everybody is one paycheck from homelessness, let’s be honest. That’s what it is. If I don’t go to work as a mother, I won’t eat, I will be homeless, like I am, [and] the children won’t eat. We need help. The rent is so high, $7.25 [minimum wage], that’s not gonna cut it for $1400 rent. She gotta work three jobs just to meet that quota. We gotta do something, stop pointing a finger and let’s get something in that’s concrete.4Tiffany S.
2010, I was fighting some medical issues, couldn’t work. I got an eviction notice. My mom said, call UNITY. I called UNITY and told them what was going on. They told me to go live on the street. Take my son and daughter, live on the street, and they would help me get housing? I said how does that help me? And now my son, he’s living on the street! And I called UNITY, to try to help my son! And they sent me to another one, and sent me to another one, and sent me to another one. I had a neighbor who UNITY put in a house. She didn’t pay her $90, and they put her stuff out. What you do after you put them in a house? Mental illness is real! Some people can’t afford a house! People want a house, want to be a part of society.5X. E. (no first name given)
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