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WWL>Topics>>6-17-14 2pm Homeless Problem in the City

6-17-14 2pm Homeless Problem in the City

Jun 17, 2014|

Angela Hill has a round table discussion with Kurt Weigle, President of the Downtown Development District, Martha Kegel, Executive Director of Unity and business and property owners in the Downtown district.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

There's been a huge decrease in the number of homeless on the streets of New Orleans in great part. Because of the efforts of organizations like unity for the homeless. That's found housing and mental help and guidance for thousands who have been living in corners of buildings. But even with the thousands in their own places now we still see a village of homeless under the punch train expressway. And there are more and more panhandlers on each corner. -- two of our guest want to know line. Why does the city allow the village to exist. Cassandra sharp is a long time resident to the downtown district Michael deplore Sheikh -- property owner and business owner also in the DDG. We also have in studio -- Weickel president of the downtown development district. And Martha can legal executive director of unity for the homeless. And -- -- -- Let me her I'm so sorry hunter Davis who was a street outreach worker for on unity. And Ernest Davis and Betsy Faust both formally homeless biggest party we've ever had in the studio I'm so appreciative and everybody being here. We are going to be talking to Sandra and Michael. And -- Michael in a moment but we're gonna start. The first really with. With you I'm Martha and you've worked for decades now on this issue. And I know we get to a program doesn't seem that long ago a couple of months ago about the that sort of hit a landmark that you're down to 600 something people still on the streets in May be less than meant. It's actually 1981. Altogether or homeless but that includes. Living in temporary homeless shelters as well as living on the street and living in abandoned buildings okay. But you have found. Great numbers of people house that's right we've come. Down 83%. Since 2007 we had 111619. Homeless people and our annual count that year. And this year in March we counted only 1980. Ones that's 83%. Drop in only seven years and and that was done because you were finally able to get housing. Right because we provided. We and our member organizations we have 63 member organizations provided. Housing and services. For people. And we do that basically on a triage basis we provide long term housing assistance and case management assistance. To people who have serious. Mental or physical disabilities. And then for people who don't we try to provide other interventions which might be. A Stanton transitional housing program that will help them. Or it could be short term and assistance and short term case management help finding a job or help finding a better job. But we try to tailor the response because -- simply aren't enough resources. So that we're not providing more assistance than what's actually needed to get that person almost. But still at all because it allows -- high rate of poverty. And because housing costs have shot up so dramatically since Katrina. And our wages for low income people are really quite low. You know we we still face of theories serious homeless problem we brought the numbers down but we still have a lot -- ago. We almost have 2000 almost people on any given night. I think that there was such an effort that was 2011 that the mayor came out and said we're going to clean up underneath the expressway. And made a real push for that in fact it was I think the people were than surprised to see it grow again. And so where has that. Come from. How well these are new people on new people that come in because of the fact that we have. You know again high rates of poverty. The camp has grown just in the last couple months pretty dramatically. And that's been primarily because. Of unattended. Intended consequences of good samaritans believe it or not mean when people calm and they start feeding under the bridge. When they start providing attempts under the bridge. You don't have an increase in homelessness but what you have been as a movement of homeless people horse scattered around the city coming to one location. That the the number of people under the camp right now sleeping under the camp right now at night. Is about a 135. People that's only about 7% of the total homeless population. But it's still a very significant number to be in one place and so what's happening as you provide. Tents and food in one -- -- -- nation. People just start. Converging and the numbers keep growing and growing it's not that homelessness is increasing its just that people are concentrating. In a particular spot and that then -- begins to be a problem for many reasons it's obviously. Not good for the economic development climate of the city it's obviously a problem for the neighbors who live and work nearby. But it really contributes. To substantial suffering of the people in those. Camps because what unity has seen over working with big camps like this which started with Duncan plaza and Claiborne at canal and Kelly -- has been the location for the past several years. Is that when camps get really large and people concentrated in one spot you tend to have a real. Did decline in public health conditions and you have drug dealers moving in and you have people who work. Preying on people and when you have -- you tend to have women getting raped and those tents and so we don't like to see large concentrations in the particular place because we know that that is contributing to -- and lack of sanitation and the city has been working really hard to try to. Come back those things but ultimately. We'd rather that Nazi -- for that reason. Let me let me ask our two earnest and and Betsy you all now have a place to live Smith OK but both of you lived underneath the expressway this man. And how long for six months and ten inattention. And he was well -- OK so you were under there was there an effort on your part too because I know that this unity people are always they're trying to help. Two to. Not staying underneath and attend. Well yeah they try to help us -- houses you know had -- -- different programs and -- Friday and a -- a court. -- C was trying to help is your house when asked why Mitt Claris. I've got to work from now. And you help us out like buttons to -- we've stated we have to find our own place -- to help constantly. You need to know. -- -- was that your experience. That there were people living underneath the expressway bit. Didn't wanna leave it underneath the as brewers in the -- and wounded in new house and and and -- prefer to be under house. Why -- I mean it would just seem like housing would be say for better. I missed a bit you know met a couple of -- that he had a please don't you that you provided to distinguish lived I guess he was going to cement its use of time. And you know I got through and issues that go to Center City. You can stuff can medication for my -- If you -- as a -- young abuse from Monday slow going to these things. And the way as our growth among men and so it can happen when about so. And -- -- camera and gave me. Had a housewife -- you know I got a closer reformed man had come back home so. And he held me Q back in terror to program Wyndham and held -- -- again house -- -- -- couple. And and and that's great kid who flew as a human who has any forward -- was trying to do some positive things to his doctorate edit things out negative. -- removed for positive so it was. I just another I was really thinking as you all have lived on that there Campbell I think that the conditions are comfortable. That you wouldn't wouldn't choose to be there if you as some do obviously if you're saying. That I'm just curious what your thoughts on -- why these people are saying there. And it seems to me like it like it and you know right they don't wanna go any or make any progress. Toward getting housing. Even though that sanitation conditions are banned. -- health. Conditions man. It is you know -- you got fastest and rats in. Pigeons they dropped these only you know people -- down and people and just own. -- can -- sell some stuff played dead. And the media got held -- agencies going for a minority. And you don't want. Will we do you have to vastly deep into your own -- who was -- wanna sound and -- formal music from -- -- you know. I guess -- and I'm trying to say is is that there's a growing concern by residences is that she said and business people. Of it's improper that it's underneath there and it isn't healthy for you all it isn't visually it looks bad. And and why can't we resolved -- and I just wanted to know. Your insights into the act. But we're gonna have to take a break we're gonna come back and we're gonna hear those concerns from residents right after this I'm Angela on -- -- Well we're talking about the homeless were talking. With Martha Cabell who is with unity. And others about sort of the status of where we are a great inroads have been made but we still have over a thousand. Almost 20089. OK still on the streets -- which without housing. -- and that is a great cause for concern for men and from Cassandra sharp and Michael do Ponte -- and Kurt Michael with the downtown development district. Talked to me about your concerns. Well I'm. On Sunday Father's Day I've had been guide the -- Oprah. Corder. And but what what that stands out to me is how inhumane it it -- Four of people to be languishing. In in a situation where there are no facilities. I mean I've lived downtown long time I've been downtown for forty years I was twenty years in the quarter now I'm twenty years on -- street. And deceive its daily actually. It's painful. Deceit and it and you have people that are going there that we have panhandlers on the corners. Instead of people giving to the panhandlers they ought to be giving to unity. Which Martha wanted me to say that I am a contributor to unity. Two of volunteers of America -- mission David boat owners trying to do a good job and in meetings that I've been with him he said that. It it doesn't help him for -- to be all of the confusion that's going on under that expressway every day. It's it's not it's it's an organized you have you have no facilities. So the money should be going to places like volunteers of America Bruce house who have thing you can do -- -- let me interrupt just for a moment. Because we know that it was a concern awhile back in 2011 and the mayor jumped in and cleaned it out right. What happened that it all of the sudden. You know you say the last couple of months not overnight over a couple of months has the city been contacted about OK gang we have to regroup. Well we do that all the time but let my okay. And if you contact if you consider email contact which we all would yes or contacted on a daily basis. It hasn't been a sudden thing to I didn't realize it has been three years consistently and let's -- this encampment which is what we call encampment. -- and more often. Yeah it means what it. Keep track of when they do ability -- it is it's been at least a year since the encampment has. Monastic cleaned out and -- cleaned out of trash to do that everyday with the trash we appears. But cleaned out in terms of the occupants. Of the camp has been quite awhile and it's been growing for some time. Week is becoming institutionalized what I said recently in an email to public officials was. Now they're basically we're developing civic anarchy down there it's an anarchic situation that's being developed. And it's grown it's growing -- we of people down there with tense. We have people down there which opens. There's even one fell for a little further down. Was that she started has civil potted plants around his rounds techies actually setting up well almost amounts to a permanent council there. It's it's it's a growing problem and it's not being addressed by the city. What reaction do you get from them do they just. Not answer your first it can only speak personally I personally no reaction that sent -- mail to public officials just a few days ago. Encouraging reactions. When I essentially charged him with was tell me. If this is a public policy now is this now the policy of the city to allow this encampment. I've yet to get the first response from a public officials have to conclude from that that at least for now. This is the public policy tool that happened and -- shameful. Yes. Com this is like Mika on Friday's I'm unity as well the city of New Orleans. We go calmed down downtown underneath the bridge. And we clean up an ever in on nights the unity outreach team we're out there we are on engaging clients. Since there -- -- lack of mental health facilities and mental health. From funding -- it's hard to engage people who. Who are -- schizophrenia skis or effective. You have to spend. Not just days sometimes weeks a year it's engaging person whose schizophrenia. And that's what unity -- and once we gauge shows people and regain their trust. We are out it's not an easy job we don't just. Mold them into housing there as there Medicaid application areas I'm giving them enrolled in central city various. Food stamps there you can't just put somebody in house would not open. And so there's a lot of things that we do -- sometimes that we meet people and we aren't I I called their family and say look they're here. And we make are we put the family back together with their loved ones so you know unity. As you know goes far beyond that tried to engage clients it's not some some people weekend engaged him in you know start the process some people it does not. Happened. Right in and let me just say I think the work that you do is like the work of angels I really do an I don't think anybody. Disagrees that it is not an easy thing just putting somebody in house doesn't make them -- homeless anymore. You have to have that infrastructure. Around them and I think or as a community understanding that. At the same time I think what they're saying his. This is a very public residential business thoroughfare. And this isn't where it should be. The answer the question then is to to you -- where should it be. Because it isn't going to be overnight hoosiers saying with not the mental health facilities that we need. Much less a housing and the time it takes to transfer some. And it's not a city. Com missed it's that it's a community. It's not just that cities followed it's not agencies out as a community as a whole we should be working concurrent together to try to fix this. What what do you all say ago. It is -- yes I think we appreciate the work that unity does that the ladies for Cuba but. The encampment should not -- out that's separate from the issue of how to deal with mentally ill people who need supportive housing for example. Surely they do and no -- argues but in camera itself is bad. Horrible public policy and it's been allowed to continue now I'm not suggesting that's permanent -- on the part of the city but it certainly been permanent atlas two years. I mean they they they broke up the encampment on Kleber and it broke up the encampment and Duncan plaza. Sometimes there's been small -- said Jackson square they certainly one of those -- but some of some recent in this area. The -- meant his tolerated. So so what do you suggest -- into the point well. -- what people are doing veered normally they would go to a park and -- where they have facilities. But that's what's happening there and it's it's leading to. People trying to walk home. It at night. Where they might live in the 15100 block of Britannia and getting I'm getting -- after walking under their expressways. I mean you have people that have been step there you have people had been frozen to death there -- over our cold spells. We've had people raped there I think there has been a murder under the expressway. It's just not if it's not. I mean we people that know and they can teach people this is not what you would teach somebody to do you don't have. An encampment like this which causes rats and I mean where should it be it shouldn't be if you -- day. We're gonna have to take a break as we have to go to the newsroom but when we come back we're gonna pick it up right there if not there where. Are subject at this hour is homelessness and more specifically the growing -- call the village jeweler calling an encampment. Underneath the expressway. It had been there before that it was eliminated and now -- has come back and were really learning about. First the successes of what's unity has accomplished in the last several years. But we still have the lingering roughly 2000 people. So big some of these people I'm learning in the commercial who live under that bridge are working. So they work but they don't make enough. For an apartment the issue is you're right rents have gone up tremendously in the last five to ten years. What is the answer for let's just take that population those who can work to do work but can't afford to live anyplace what is the answer. Well. The nationally. Proven evidence based practices called rapid re housing. For that group of people and it's basically some help with. Rent deposit. May be first second month's rent. Help help may be getting a better job. Short -- case management may be around budgeting things like Matt. But it's basically very short term intervention and we have very much of that. Unfortunately in our in our. Kit bag of homeless resources there's very little resources like that. In new world and so that's one populations that. We're not able to do as much as we would like to -- after Katrina and with the stimulus act after that we did have a lot of rapid re housing money. That is. Pretty much gone there's a teeny bit but it does and others are currently can help us a small number of people here. You say them specifically but is 10% 20%. Of the people under the bridge right now those who were working maybe 10% of doesn't like that's so but the 90% would you put in the grouping of mental illness. Physical substance addiction and a combination of the two we have -- Done and of recent compilation of statistics under there and of course campus grown so much that. Who's in the camp tonight will be different than last night. But but you would expect based on our previous. Surveys that we've done. That you're gonna see. That the majority of people have some combination of physical or mental illness and oftentimes have. Have both -- some of them are still able to work. Where some of them have -- serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Serious. Physical illnesses such that they -- actually. Even dying and so. Our priority. Is always focusing on the most -- -- sickest of the sick and hoping that some of the people with. Minor. Kinds of illnesses. Or who don't have any illnesses and all can't get help from our member agencies families friends. To get back on their feet but the problem is I see it with this particular camp. And the reason why people are coming from all over the city into this camp. Is. Primarily because they're tents there. And primarily because there. People feeding there let me ask is it against the law to have tense under bridge now but I think that might be something that we could find common ground on I think. A lot of us here have common ground now a lot of things we may not agree about everything that. I don't think that it is a good idea for anybody. To have tents and I wouldn't personally have any problem with them being outlawed because when I have found. In dealing with these camps over the years is that when you have camps you have vulnerable people being abused in those camps. You can be sure that women are getting raped in the stance based on our prior experience. You can be sure that drug dealers arts art in those tense staking out their territory and preying on vulnerable people. And I think that those tents should not be allowed the Michael DuPont TA says he doesn't get a response from City Hall he writes he doesn't get a response. Would Martha table with unity get a response if you went to the council and said. Let's outlaw -- well in fairness to the city to City Council to the mayor to the administration. I think I have seen because I'm on email chains I have I think the city. Is responding now it is true that it's an overwhelming problem. And you know. They may not be responding as fast as it is he would like but but the city is taking this very seriously they are doing. Weekly cleaning. Bomb. From time to time that they are trying to do massive free housing efforts under that under the bridge. But you can't it is not against the law to be homeless. We can't criminalize homelessness or say it's -- he could probably abolish the tents and that might be a good. You know a good a good legislative. Is something for the City Council to take out but we can't. The courts have said that you cannot make homelessness crime so we can't prevent people from. In Michigan offense off area you really can't prevent people from clustering and in particular area let's take a called American -- sitting. My question is if I was to setup the tent on canal street Charles how long do you think it would take before Robert -- all. Yeah well I think that's an issue that what he's saying is if he put up the ten in saint Charles avenue or canal street it would be allowed. That for some reason it's it's being allowed underneath there. But you bring up a very good point. Looks that we had tense -- don't comply so we had -- all he has -- -- Claiborne at canal. This is just this particular location is just the hot spot in recent years but if you fenced off the -- -- court are. You would have a camp come up someplace else why because there's so many homeless people that there's always going to be someplace. Where people tend to cluster and the question is. -- how many people are gonna cluster and one spot and at some point it gets to the point where it is really. News a danger to them not good for the neighbor not good for economic development for Michael. Yeah I think that's valid point -- that. The homeless will be some more just because you know I'm listening underneath the the the freeway there doesn't mean they're gonna disappear. But I think you know also good point is that this of the tents having this something we can come it's common ground down. -- another thing that was mentioned earlier is defeating I think the meals for homeless. Is of is a problem because it attracts more folks to that area to a point where becomes overwhelming offering even -- the caregivers to address it. So one of the things that in response some of the concerns from from stakeholders in the area. That the city and the DVD and both administration and City Council when -- see the city. Have been working on. Is some way to coordinate the the meals so that because right now somebody shows up with a man he throws some food. To folks from the back. And that's basically it but you know we're looking at things we're looking at questions like. Why can't folks you required to clean up after they after they provide -- meal there. And so I think those are more things that we can do to create some regulation. It's so that we're we're not in this kind of normal us with. Norm less situation that Michael described earlier. Stay with us we'll be right back I'm Angela under the WL. We're talking about homeless and let's go to our caller packed -- And that the problem. It. I think from the gentleman yet you have that -- just want everybody -- urged. I figured that problem it is the people's central right there that probably the group. It's an art and structure the country. That's populated under every -- I mean we -- so pompous and pretentious to -- people put it this that. That drop and and and a. I think the issue is that it is it is where it is rather than I don't think they wanna put these people out. In the forest but is there a better facility. Do you hear do you hear what he was saying I'm so are we don't have enough I had zones but he's saying it's safe under there to sperm structure it does centralize things -- not. Did that it's safer but it. Actually isn't safe. It is safe at all and that's what Martha and also an island NIC the police reports for the eighth district. And what all the districts I get all the police reports and they're constantly having stabbings. They're having rapes and we and we are city of municipal addresses. We -- we have municipal address -- for a reason because in an emergency. You wanna be able to tell dispatcher. You don't want to tell me it's the third red -- from the corner under Kelly -- that is in which you what you need to do. I mean it's it's not a safe place at all people can't walk under the Eric -- now. Yeah or -- -- Cassandra I think it's not fair to say there constantly stabbings and so forth there -- certainly incidents on a regular basis I'll give you but it's not well and it's -- that. But but but the point I'll make is that you know I wish we could come together to talk about it permanent solution to this. We've already done a lot in terms of her support housing that he worked with unity and many others to bring more permits for housing vouchers here after the storm. The -- working with the city now we have a full time outreach worker ourselves of these activities paying for. The city on his part is has agreed to pay four to house anybody that we can get off the streets. And so were making some good progress but there are few areas that. Where we still have now made enough progress and and one is low barrier shelters for instance people who may be drunk or or high. A lot of Childers won except him in the air conditioner but we knew that we need a place for them to get into the system somehow. So then the social workers and others can start working with them to help them address their issues and hopefully get them them housed the other thing and that I really strongly we need. Is sort of in this I think it's because Sanders and Michael's point from other cities like San Antonio have created. Really complexes. I think is best way to put. Four for the homeless and those include buildings where you you'll get people into housing right there on site you have the social services that they need. But they're even places within these complexes for folks who because of schizophrenia or whatever. Other kind of issues that may be dealing with are not yet ready come indoors the kind of wanna be safe in a place that's that's away from. From being preyed upon by the drug -- and so forth but they're not ready to come in the cold so to speak. Are there other examples out there that we can that we can move to but I think we all need to work. Together to make that happen and as a group because I think you know us. -- -- -- point fingers and a commitment that if the mayor came up with it giving it ten year plan and you were part of the committing and were several years into it. Is there anything in that plan that suggests something like you're talking about a facility. They're there. Elements of it and I think that we have so unfortunately we have a history in New Orleans of of the legacy project which was supposed to be the be all and end all fours for homelessness and include many elements that I mentioned. That because it just sort of get weighed down from being everything to everybody eventually they -- financing fort and it never moved forward. So I think what we need to do is find something find some areas where we can make some incremental progress toward a larger and I think -- a key word. Comprehensive strategy to do to to dealing with this I think much of that is laid out in that ten year plan. There's also facilities that it recently opened like the VA sinner on grab -- and I think a lot of those pick a lot of people that would. B recipients of that they don't know about these facilities. -- of the VA on grab the year you have which is open to all homeless people right not just. That veterans here right and that's an ever Furl Sutter and in our so Dave he's gotten her condition is open and I clinic. To help people and their. There are ditzy at saint Joseph's church on two -- hasn't facility where people can shower don't center thing. Where they don't have to just languished under the expressways. You know. All. Solved or maybe the first step is getting rid of the tents see what how that plays out. But encourage people not to drop food off there is food available at various facilities. And chip away at it that way. To get some and I think also visually and it's a separate issue which we've done. Is the panhandling and I don't think all of them are homeless and all right but it's become much more visible. And and is cursed an aggressive advocate that you can be arrested for aggressive. But on every corner so I think everybody gets pushed into the same pot oh my god it's getting worse. What can we do about that panhandle if we're talking visually as citizens. Gestured tourist was -- but people who appear. Do we wanna see that. An -- well you know that the downtown. Development district -- the area -- organization. There isn't or is -- covers -- downtown development district that prohibits panhandling in groups of more than one for instance which can be intimidating the summit obviously. Panhandling between 7 PM and 6 AM -- night once again if it's night time and some is asking for money that's very intimidating. The courts have allowed limitations like that and how you can panhandle if you're standing at a quarter with your handout. That is not against the law in the course you know across the country have upheld that. Com as as legal behavior. But there are many other areas at the margins that I think you know once again I think is it's a valid point that Cassandra and I'm Michael make. Is that there are certain anti social behaviors that we as a community just should not accept under any circumstance. I wish we weren't out of time I just want to thank each and every one of you for being here. I have a feeling we're going to be talking about it again and but I love that we're talking about it because that is the first to stay with the second month we'll be right back.

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