NEW ORLEANS -- A renewed effort is being launched to clear the growing homeless encampment underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway, as city officials began handing out letters calling for people to vacate the area below the structure.Probably there are mental competency issues involved in a lot of these cases but still one assumes that if the "upwards of 50 like-service minisitries in this town that have open beds," (according the director of The New Orleans Mission) were preferable to sleeping under the bridge, people wouldn't be there in such high concentrations.
The very visible population of homeless who often live in tents under the expressway were given letters Monday evening saying they had 72 hours to move out from the area and take their belongings with them.
"The area under US 90/Pontchartrain Expressway from South Claiborne Avenue to St. Charles Avenue has been declared a public health hazard," states the letter.
Not that it sounds all that great.
Martha Kegel, executive director of UNITY, said 126 people were sleeping at the encampment as of June 18. Scores more drift in during the day. Dozens of tents and couches dot the underpass from St. Charles Avenue all the way to South Broad Street. Many who live there aren’t just staying for mere days but have set up shop in what they describe as a permanent shanty town. They say the highway provides shelter, a sense of safety and even emotional support.So for various reasons, this terrible situation is often the best alternative for over hundred people on a given night. But the city, thought "Hamstrung by budget constraints, constitutional protections (etc)" is determined to do something tough and action-y anyway.
However, neighbors and homeless advocacy groups say the area has become a plague and an eyesore, a rodent-infested and lawless sector in the middle of the city’s downtown where police presence is rare and drug use and violence are rampant.
“The tents attract drug dealers, who move in under cover of the tents, preying on the vulnerable homeless population, many of whom have co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders,” Kegel said. “Women get raped in the tents, vulnerable people have their disability checks stolen, and violence has become common.”
City officials acknowledge the area presents a significant threat to health and safety but say they are hamstrung by budget constraints, constitutional protections and the complexities of dealing with a diverse population with a host of substance abuse and mental health issues.
So we've got this 72 hour ultimatum before Serpas comes out to... what? Shoo people away with broom? Arrest them? For what?
Can't bring people battling mental health issues to jail, anyway. Gusman says he isn't ready for them.