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"Homeles homeowners living under the bridge' and others true stories

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  • les evenchick
    By Elizabeth Cook - social justice activist ---Les My latest indymedia article: http://neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2007/12/11794.php At the Intersection of
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 30, 2007
      By Elizabeth Cook - social justice activist ---Les

      "My latest indymedia article:


      At the Intersection of Homelessness, Homeownership and
      Public Housing
      by Elizabeth Cook Sunday, Dec. 30, 2007 at 10:42 AM

      Beneath the overpass at Claiborne and Canal, is the
      between home ownership, homelessness and public

      I met two people, a man and a woman, New Orleans
      natives, each of whom
      owned homes when the waters filled New Orleans East
      and the lower ninth

      Alex Clay, age 53, sitting in a comfortable chair next
      to his matress
      on the concrete, told me he was living in his
      mother's home in the lower
      ninth ward when Katrina unleashed her water fury. His
      mother had died
      just one month prior to Katrina, and he was the only
      relative living in
      the home.

      He survived the flood by sitting atop a neighbor's
      roof with four other
      adults, and one dog. He was rescued by boat, dropped
      off at the St.
      Claude bridge, walked to Canal St., and there his
      story trailed off. He
      can't remember where he was brought, what city or
      small town he lived in
      for over a year after Katrina.

      He knows though that when he came back, he went to see
      his mother's
      home in the lower ninth. The house was gone,
      demolished, "nothing but
      grass now where it stood".

      He's been homeless since he returned to New Orleans
      about eight months
      ago. He's been living under the overpass at the
      intersection of Canal
      and Claiborne.

      No, he has not applied for Road Home help. Neither has
      Linda Adams (not
      her real name), a homeowner from New Orleans East
      when Katrina came
      crashing ashore. She has no insurance, she said, and
      about the Road Home,
      she said she "didn't hear much about it."

      Linda asked for sanitary napkins. On my way to
      Walgreen's to purchase
      some for her, I reflected on the trauma that many are
      still feeling, and
      have suffered since Katrina. Trauma so deep and
      dramatic that it takes
      you outside of the normal parameters of life, so that
      you don't hear
      about programs that might assist you in recovery.

      And while Louisiana Recovery Authority officials pat
      themselves on the
      backs for jobs well done, they have shut the Road
      Home program down,
      before those like Linda and Alex could muster their
      inner and outer
      resources sufficiently to be able to apply. Then
      again, if you don't have a
      current address, could you have applied for the Road

      I can see Linda and Alex shuffling through the morass
      of paperwork for
      the Road Home, explaining to worker after worker, "I
      don't have a
      current address, I am homeless."

      This particular encampment at Canal and Claiborne is
      "peaceful", as one
      resident described it. Mostly older, middle-aged
      folks, and a few
      young people "that don't give any trouble". A
      mentally-ill resident of
      Iberville Housing Development, just steps away, is a
      regular visitor, and
      she was there today, threatening that her attorney
      would "shut the place
      down" and everybody "better get their shit packed and
      moved by

      I recognize her as someone I gave money to at the
      corner of Canal and
      Claiborne a few weeks after Katrina. No one in the
      encampment seemed
      bothered by her. Indeed, one man put his hand gently
      on her shoulder and
      mouthed comforting words "It's alright sister, it's

      Just blocks away is the now shuttered Lafitte Housing
      Development. 850
      units shuttered and scheduled for demolition, while
      we have New Orleans
      natives, made homeless by Katrina, sleeping under a
      nearby overpass.

      The sheer immensity of this situation, this human
      rights violation, can
      be viewed as a violation to us all, here in New
      Orleans. It makes one
      want to scream from rooftops, won't someone hear our
      cry here in New
      Orleans? Won't someone recognize the need for
      immediate action before we
      lose over 4000 units of affordable, public housing,
      units that the Alex
      Clays and the Linda Adams could potentially live in,
      at least
      temporarily, in units residents don't return to?

      Reopening public housing would also free up much
      needed rental units,
      and potentially drive down rents in the city.

      Our own people are not hearing our cry. Local and
      state leaders have
      bought into the dictum of the "private market"
      rebuilding New Orleans.
      Let's translate this: a few developers will make a
      lot of money in post
      Katrina New Orleans, whether from gobbling up homes
      and land abandoned
      because the homeowners couldn't pay mortgages, or
      were just too
      traumatized to connect with the Road Home Program,
      like Alex and Linda, or
      whether from the redevelopment of public housing, and
      reducing the numbers
      of units for low income renters dramatically, and
      benefiting from
      federal tax credits in the process...this is how
      money will be made in
      Post-Katrina New Orleans.

      Local political leaders are hedging their bets with
      the whims of
      homeowners who have been able to rebuild, and are
      voting policies that
      benefit a few at the expense of the many.

      Raymond, a New Orleans native, returned to New Orleans
      over one and
      one-half years ago. He has been homeless since
      returning, living under the
      Claiborne/Canal overpass. He works constuction, but
      finding decent
      work has proved daunting. He might eat one meal a
      day, he says. "Some of
      the people here don't even eat that", he said.

      Neither Alex, Linda or Raymond have been approached by
      Unity for the
      Homeless. "I've heard of them," Alex said. Remember,
      Alex has been at
      this location for eight months; he's heard of Unity,
      but has never been
      approached by one of their workers.

      Let's face it, there is not a rush to assist the
      homeless in New
      Orleans. That $1.5 million recently doled out to
      Unity for the Homeless is
      chump change compared to the issue at hand: pulling
      people off of the
      street, getting them into decent housing, and staying
      with them for the
      long term to keep them off of the street.

      David Williams, not his real name, and a resident of
      this encampment,
      just had surgery. He pulled his shirt up to reveal a
      long row of
      stitches that are holding the scar together. He had a
      hole in his kidney; said
      he nearly died out here, under the overpass. He
      pointed to a tent.
      "The fellow that lives there, he kept me alive", he
      said, "until the
      ambulance came".

      He said he has medications, and he's feeling fine.
      University Hospital
      is treating him. What he doesn't have is clean gauze
      and peroxide.
      David is a convicted felon, and a veteran. He has
      been homeless since the

      He gestured angrily at the empty buildings nearby.
      "What about this big
      empty building?" he said. David wants to work, and is
      hoping for a job
      with his nephew. He doesn't want help from the
      government, and said he
      has too much pride to stay with family.

      There are a host of people in the encampment from
      elsewhere, who came
      here looking for work after Katrina. There is a
      cabinet maker from New
      Hampshire, a construction worker from Monroe,
      Louisiana, a groundskeeper
      from California, and two young people in their
      twenties from New York.

      Cheryl and Wes, not their real names, decided to pull
      up stakes from
      New York, and come down here for work. On their way
      here, their car burnt
      to the ground, along with all of their clothes and
      money. The Red
      Cross paid for their bus fare here, and they've been
      homeless since
      November 1st.

      They were sleeping by the wharves on the river, but
      they began to hear
      about rapes occurring at the wharves, and so decided
      to join the
      encampment at Canal and Claiborne. They work cleaning
      the Superdome, which is
      just blocks away, as do several people that I spoke
      to in the

      When I visited the homeless who were encamped at
      Duncan Plaza, several
      of those folks also said they worked at the
      Superdome, cleaning up
      after special events.

      The irony of this situation fairly screams for
      attention. In the shadow
      of the Superdome, where people died waiting for help
      after Katrina,
      now sleep the homeless. They work in the Superdome,
      but there is no
      housing for them in New Orleans that is affordable.

      The Superdome, by the way, was repaired and
      refurbished and back on
      line just one year after Katrina. I remember Governor
      Blanco mouthing
      platitudes, something to the effect, "This shows the
      will and determination
      of the people of Louisiana to rebuild".

      No governor, this shows something else. Terribly
      misplaced priorities,
      and a cold willingness to look the other way when it
      comes to the
      suffering of Louisianians, as they continue to
      struggle to recover.

      Les Evenchick
      New Orleans
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