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Posted: Tuesday, 12 August 2014 7:31AM

City evicting the homeless from under the expressway



The city of New Orleans is giving the homeless people living under the Pontchartrain Expressway three days to get out.

The New Orleans Health Department says conditions are not safe in the encampments under the elevated roadway and everyone must go.

The papers the city posted read, "This area must be vacated within 72 hours of this notice."

The flyer adds, "The area... has been declared a public health hazard."

The New Orleans Mission says they have plenty of room at the shelter.

Executive Director David Bottner said in his recent State of The Homeless in New Orleans report, "We want to instill a sense of hope and help them realize they were created for more than just sleeping under a bridge living in a tent. While a few individuals heed our advice, more of them ignore it."

The city says the garbage, waste and food the homeless have under the bridge create a public health hazard and attract rodents.

The New Orleans Health Department says the homeless are violating both state and local laws.

The Ozanam Inn is setting up an extra 30 cots, although director Biaggio Di Giovanni says often they only stay for a night or two before heading back to the streets.

''Some of them have medical conditions, some of them have mental issues and they feel they are safer in their own environment,'' said Di Giovanni.

Panhandling is a way of life for many of the homeless but good Samaritans are advised not to give money.

''Offer them food, offer them a place to stay, that is the better solution,'' he said.

Last time the city did this kind of mass removal of homeless was before the Super Bowl in February of 2013.

Bottner says getting homeless people on the right track is difficult.  He says there are issues with mental illness, physical and sexual abuse, poor education, lacking job skills and more.

"At minimum, we want the homeless to have a safe environment where they feel comfortable, accepted and empowered to do more with their lives," he explained.  "We can get the people living under the bridge into the programs and shelters they need to become productive members of society. In the same way these people have formed comfortable habits under the Expressway, we need to get them forming new comfortable habits off the street.

Below is Bottners full text for "State of The Homeless in New Orleans: 2014"...

Times are tough. There's no doubt you've witnessed the recent boom of homelessness and panhandling across Greater New Orleans, especially under the Pontchartrain Expressway. Over the last year or so, the homeless population camped there has swelled enough to create a vast "tent city," similar to the one seen just prior to the Super Bowl hosted here in 2013. To most, this tent city has seemingly emboldened the homeless to aggressively beg for more and more handouts.

The issue with this perception is that many of the panhandlers you are increasingly seeing across the city are not homeless, despite what their cardboard signs may claim. Their often-exploitative actions put a negative light on the sincerely homeless. For many passersby, the situation typically leads to averted eyes, locked doors, uncomfortable feelings and a prejudice toward the homeless that becomes tough to crack.

It's tough to tell the difference between those who truly need help and those who are taking advantage of charity. Case in point, a homeless man recently attacked a gentleman for saying "get a f***ing job," unaware of his legitimate struggles that most people never see. The reality is that many of the homeless you see under the bridge are in no condition to obtain employment. Many suffer severe mental illness that requires medical attention, while others have little to no education and need job training. Sadly, most have suffered some kind of sexual and physical abuse in their past and simply never recovered.

I know you often struggle deciding whether to give money to the homeless, unsure if they will use it to purchase alcohol, drugs or both. In all honesty, you should never give money directly to the homeless unless the circumstances truly warrant it. Instead, you should give it to a charitable organization. There are numerous services available all around town to meet their needs, most of which are free—like those provided by the New Orleans Mission. The Mission wants to serve as a catalyst for change, and that begins with making sure everyone in our community knows about and understands all the things we provide to help the homeless get back on their feet.

The staff and volunteers of the New Orleans Mission have performed significant outreach to the city's homeless during my two years as director, particularly under the Expressway located just across the street from our facilities. We visit the area at least three times per week to encourage change. We want to instill a sense of hope and help them realize they were created for more than just sleeping under a bridge living in a tent. While a few individuals heed our advice, more of them ignore it because so many of their needs are met right where they are… So why leave?

The challenge is encouraging everyone in the city to maintain a concerted, consistent effort for addressing the issue. The answer is connecting those in need with the services we and so many other organizations offer, not giving them temporarily fulfilling handouts. I believe that if there is collaborative outreach from charitable organizations, the city and the public that focuses on the long-term plan, we can get the people living under the bridge into the programs and shelters they need to become productive members of society. In the same way these people have formed comfortable habits under the Expressway, we need to get them forming new comfortable habits off the street.

During the day, most shelters release homeless men and women to the streets when they do not participate in their long-term programs. Part of our plan to address this and also assist the homeless with developing healthy habits is to set up a day room in our facility where case workers connect them with medical care, educational opportunities, job placement services and more—All off the street. Our facility would even offer smaller amenities that many people take for granted, such as access to exercise equipment and a restroom that is not the street. At minimum, we want the homeless to have a safe environment where they feel comfortable, accepted and empowered to do more with their lives.

In more than 25 years, the New Orleans Mission has helped thousands of struggling individuals jump-start their lives by temporarily providing clothing, food, shelter and other services, with all of the resources coming by generous private donations and grants. But to give your best, you have to be at your best. That's why the Mission is in the process of a major facelift and interior renovation. Our aim is to create a greater environment where struggling people can get the help they need, turn their lives around and flourish.

To thrive, the homeless need jobs. But they must first know how to handle work and prepare for reintroduction into society. This is why we provide the essential job training and life skills needed to do so. Above and beyond, we also offer programs for literacy, finances, computers, mental health and addiction counseling, among others, to provide a well-rounded approach.

While the programs are here, the homeless seem to be elsewhere. The heavily traveled Expressway has become a major focus, especially since many tourists and convention-goers pass by the area. As the situation balloons it paints a discouraging picture of the city. Think about how out-of-towners perceive New Orleans when they see Tent City. And then think about how that viewpoint could affect you, such as how the loss of just one convention could cost the city and local businesses millions of dollars. That loss of revenue far exceeds the funds needed to help finish renovating our facility and run the day room, two assets I firmly believe can help improve that outlook. This is part of the solution. We just consistently need to all work together with a long-term strategy in mind.

We are on the right track, but cannot get there without help from people like you. Please consider getting involved with the New Orleans Mission (www.neworleansmission.org) or any of our area's fantastic charities. Whether you give your time, talent or treasure it has great value in bringing hope. Together, we can change our city for the greater.

Sincerely,

David Bottner

Executive Director

New Orleans Mission


 

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