Visit to the Homeless Camp on Claiborne Ave.

Scrappin   Homeless Camps Claiborne Ave. (1)
Click photos to see more of the photo set

Today I did something I have been meaning to do for a long time. I went to check out the homeless camp under the Claiborne Ave. overpass. First, I took some copper I have had sitting around for months to the scrapyard. This is a scene all its own. The staff there was laughing because I wanted my photo taken and readily admitted that I had never scrapped before and was a bit nervous. They were really, really nice. They told me what to do and took my license and handed me $16 for the armful of copper I put on the scale. Then, I took that money and an extra comforter I had to homeless people under the bridge.

When I pulled up a few men came to greet me right in the middle of the street. They seemed rather unconcerned that we were in the right lane of a busy street. They wanted to talk to me. I wanted to talk to them. I asked them how things were under there. Scary? Yes, they said, scary. They said most people were nice but some people were a little crazy which made it like prison.

Luther Davis was very receptive and while it’s often difficult to get people to let me take their photo, these people encouraged me to take pictures. I asked where most people were from. They said most people were from some place other than New Orleans but Luther said he never left during Katrina and was living a life on the edge prior to the storm, living in someone’s house on the condition he do work for the owner. Luther was very frank with me, apologizing to me that he’d had a little wine today already. I wouldn’t have guessed by talking to him. I just said, “Hey, it’s a holiday.” He told me to go to the Tulane end of the ramp to see the full extent of the population here, which I did. You can see this in the photo set.

I handed my cash donation to one of the more cleancut guys in our huddle and they all split it up between them immediately. I was worried about creating a conflict. Who to give it to? I was nervous but they obviously share anything they get with one another.

Other men who were gathered around me said most people converged on New Orleans with hopes of getting cash jobs. However, they all agreed disappointedly that, “It’s cheaper for people to hire the Mexicans.” Luther said there were mostly men living here, some women, a couple of them pregnant. He did say that they do get regular visits from social service agencies trying to get them out of there and they do get some food from charitable folks. Luther made another good point, he said they could use at least a few cell phones so that they could make calls to housing and other social agencies. The lack of ability to communicate from their camp isolates them.

Luther emphasized his serious concern that with Mardi Gras coming that the city will soon send the garbage men out to just clear out their belongings in an effort to dismantle the camp before the premier tourist season arrives. He was somber, he feels like they are living on borrowed time. He hoped I would spread the word about their situation and I promised I would do my best.

11 Comments so far

  1. Joe (unregistered) on December 31st, 2007 @ 3:25 pm
  2. twinkie1cat (unregistered) on January 1st, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

    Conventions and festivals are always a problem for homeless people. Mardi Gras would be a good time to put the pressure on for housing. When the Democratic and Republican conventions came to Atlanta, the city cleared out most of the homeless people, including a big camp that was mostly gay, called Hutville because the people built little plywood huts to live in (Less warm weather means it is even harder to live outside than in NO) The city actually ended up renting apartments for the Hutville residents and gave them a six month lease which was extended for some and allowed them to get into public housing since many were on disability due to AIDS in that community. It actually helped alot of them get their stuff together although some were already working. One guy ultimately made his partner move with him to Tennessee so he would be in an unfamiliar place and have time to dry out from the drugs. He did, but then he died of AIDS that he did not know he had for a long time.

    There were several Hutville type neighborhoods in Atlanta from various population groups—veterans, couples, gay men and transgenders located on public land all over town. What got the housing movement started was when a guy was carrying on all his daily functions in view of the windows of a luxury hotel.

    Of course the city locked up a lot of homeless people during the conventions too. In fact it was often said that the city jail was the most high tech homeless shelter in Atlanta. In fact, a few years later a big piece of it has been made into a homeless shelter because they stopped seeing people charged with state crimes in municipal court.

    People who live in these communities eventually have a structure, amenities and a mayor. The mayor of Hutville had a white picket fence and a porch made of pallets. Some of the residents had tapped into the wiring of the city (bridge) and others had hot running water and a shower by running pipes through a fire barrel and through their roof. Groups came and brought food and churches cooked for them on weekends. They even had the extra meals from a Meals on Wheels program for people with AIDS that could not be taken to the regular clients delivered daily by the volunteer drivers. Their biggest problem was they couldn’t get mail and that impeded letters from Social Security, which they had to walk up to St. Luke’s Church about 15 blocks—which had been feeding the homeless for decades and had a voicemail and mailbox program also. That is if they did not have a bus pass. They were right by a train station so if they had one they were in good shape for that.

    The people at Claiborne do really need prepaid cell phones or at least some pay phones that will take incoming. Tracfone is easy to add minutes to. It could mean the difference in whether or not they get a job or services.

    It sounds like the Claiborne group is already developing a communal lifestyle and a community that could be a powerful force for good if they got organized. I don’t think the city would want to add a float just for them. But the time to apply the pressure is always when there are about to be a lot of visitors.

  3. Nola Blogger (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

    They requested free cell phones so they can call housing and social agencies? Perhaps they could also use the phones to find jobs….

  4. Laureen (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2008 @ 7:29 pm

    Why do we keep writing blank checks for the war in Iraq and let a big empty hotel sit unoccupied just across the street from these folks? Why can’t the feds put up some money to get these folks housing. Then they can start thinking about working. It’s pretty hard to work day-to- day when you can’t even get a decent night’s sleep.

    This is not a problem unique to New Orleans but our homeless population has exploded since Katrina. Our homeless problem in America is also a symptom of our lack of mental health care nationwide. As an example of people who choose to live on the streets, I recommend reading “Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls. This is a compelling book about a woman whose parents refused to be anything but homeless. She tells the story of the family, growing up in the ‘skedaddle’ life with her parents who couldn’t keep steady jobs and hopped from town to town. Even though she and her siblings escaped the spiraling dysfunction and she grew up to live on Park Avenue, they could not get her parents to give up their street life. I read it last year, I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend this book. A great read.

  5. rickngentilly (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2008 @ 9:55 pm

    i’m kinda shocked to see how small a bag 16.00 worth of copper will fit in.

    hope you are well and had a happy holiday season.

    take care. rick.

  6. J.B. (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2008 @ 11:24 pm

    Great post, Laureen… great idea, great photoset, and great comment. Really illuminating stuff.

    Especially with the cold weather we’ve been having the past couple nights, the truly down-and-out are having it harder than usual.

    “nolablogger,” when you see people sleeping on the streets, huddled beneath bridges without a roof over their heads, without privacy or dignity, that’s really what you think? That they need a JOB? “Boy, if they just had a timeclock to punch and a boss giving them orders eight hours a day, that would solve all of their problems…”

    My volunteer work (not to mention the route I walk to work) brings me into regular contact with the homeless… some need alcohol or mental health counseling, many need medical care in the short- or long-term, most need nutritious food and clean clothes, all need a safe, clean, stable living environment and the support of their fellow human beings, but “a job,” while a healthy eventual goal, is neither the benchmark of a person’s worth nor even in the top ten things the average homeless person most needs.

    Shame on you for your glib remark– grow up.

  7. Nola Blogger (unregistered) on January 4th, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

    J.B., thanks for the comment, but with all due respect, you provide a list of things you say a homeless person needs and say that a job is not one of those things, yet you overlook the obvious fact that a job can provide one the means to achieve everything on your list. Food, clothing, a stable living environment, health care, etc. are all things that can be obtained through work. I never implied that a job is a benchmark of a person’s worth or anything of the sort, but it is a fact that a job provides money which allows someone to buy food, pay rent, etc. and to have a far greater sense of dignity and privacy than the alternative. This is fact and should not even be controversial.

  8. Laureen (unregistered) on January 4th, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

    My neighbor, on Constance St., used to permit an older man named Peter to sleep on his porch from time to time. Peter was about the same age as Luther Davis and washed cars at the Cadillac dealership as ‘job’ but he was far from able to afford a steady place to live. I tend to always wonder where the family of these people are as well. It just seems like they really do need help before they can really get beyond even working poor. I would prefer to spend my tax dollars on this sort of ‘rebuilding’ than the quagmire in the Middle East.

  9. rickngentilly (unregistered) on January 5th, 2008 @ 1:19 am

    i drove by there today.

    there are a lot more people than before christmas.

    i have a bad feeling that a sweep will screw these people even harder than they are already screwed.

    this camp is way to organized for the city to just let it slide.

    the same thing happened on the river on the lower quarter about 15 years ago.

    mardis gras will fuck these folks worse than they are now.

  10. steve jackson (unregistered) on January 13th, 2008 @ 2:53 am

    Funny how those who have so little are so quick to share and those who have so much, so slow or not at all.
    Thanks for the update! Good to catch a whiff of reality every now and then!!
    God Bless,
    Steve from Canton Ohio

  11. phyllis cooper (unregistered) on January 15th, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

    It amazes me how upside down this country is. Our government is more interested in a screwed up country in the middle of a screwed up region of the world becoming a democracy than taking care of our own. The response to Katrina and the citizens of N.O. and the gulf coast is tragic. Ignoring our own suffering citizens is unforgivable.

    It seems the whole culture in our country has followed suit. Hiring illegals, instead of Americans who need a hand up, buying foreign everything, when American manufacturing jobs are shrinking daily. On my street alone, three of my neighbors have bought new cars in the past few months, 2 Toyotas and a Nissan. One of these neighbors is a union worker in a local plant. One of the three Walmarts in my town is about 1 1/2 miles away. Everyone shops there while the neighborhood grocery, that has been under new management 5 times in 8 years has few cars on it’s parking lot. Americans need to wake up and stop supporting all the Asian economies. They are doing fine on their own, and we are heading toward a recession.

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