Posted Nov. 19, 2007 — Hundreds of New Orleans' homeless, most of whom are still suffering from Hurricane Katrina’s rampage two years ago, have taken up residence on Mayor Ray Nagin’s front stoop. They have left the city’s shelters, street grates, condemned buildings and back alleys to make an embarrassingly emphatic statement — in the form of an unsightly tent city — on the plaza in front of City Hall.
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Arguing that they have been unable to afford any type of housing since the killer storm tore through the Crescent City in late August of 2005, the fed-up, riled-up residents of the Big Uneasy chanted in unison: “Hey Ray, Hey Ray! How about a house today!” It was a refrain that runs counter to the popular tourist triticism: "The spirit of New Orleans is waterproof."
“You’ve got people all over New Orleans sleeping in abandoned buildings, in abandoned cars, everywhere,” Julius Nelson, of the group Homeless Pride, told The Associated Press, reminding that the city has an obligation to find homes for its citizens. “You don’t have any affordable housing. People don’t even go to the crowded shelters. They come straight here.”
With the shelters crammed to uncomfortable, unsafe proportions, the poor people of New Orleans once again feel dissed by the government, say Nelson and others. In fact, they contend that the situation is so bad that rental assistance is of little use – that’s because the affordable rental housing units have not been rebuilt since an angry Katrina washed them away.
Nagin was elected to a second term after national Black leaders not only supported his campaign but helped displaced Black residents return in buses and carpools from far-flung regions of the country to throw their overwhelming support behind him. Nagin’s key promise was to provide for the city’s poor, particularly Black, residents, who believed they had been abandoned, just like they were in 2005 as the flood waters swallowed up their neighborhoods.
The city’s homeless numbers show that little has been done to alleviate those fears among New Orleans' poor residents. The number of people who had no homes before Katrina hit — 6,300 — has ballooned to a staggering 12,000 homeless people today, says the homeless advocacy organization UNITY of Greater New Orleans. Also, the group says, the city's 832 shelter beds were cut by nearly a fourth. The nonprofit PolicyLink reports that 41,000 of the 200,000 homes that were destroyed were affordable rental units. And the average rental cost for an efficiency apartment has skyrocketed from $463 to $764 since the storm.
The crisis is amplified by the shanty-town on the grassy plaza, which is strewn with tents, sleeping bags, cardboard cots and newspaper blankets; it has grown from about a half-dozen tents three months ago to nearly four dozen today.
Nagin has not met with the group, AP reports, but he released a statement saying that his administration “is working with numerous agencies to address the homelessness.” He says that he is concerned about the safety of and unsanitary conditions for homeless people who have refused to return to temporary shelters. Some campers have interpreted that as a signal that Nagin is about to force them move away from City Hall's hallowed lawn.
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