Apr 082014
 

jewel bush

Dianne Honoré has been a French Quarter tour guide off and on for more than 20 years; and this, she said, is the worst it’s ever been.

“My heart breaks when I walk through the French Quarter sometimes,” Honoré said sipping a coffee in Treme Café on St. Philip Street. “It disgusts me the lack of protection, the level of filth.”

Honoré is talking about the all-time high population of “gutter punks” that blanket the French Quarter. The gutter punk colonies run along the river, along Decatur Street. The 500 block of Bourbon Street is a gutter-punk haven; basically all over the French Quarter is, she said.

“You have to walk over them and their dogs. They carpet the streets,” Honoré said. “There are some streets tour guides avoid altogether. The Faubourgs are overrun with them too.”

Last week, while leading a tour of about 20 visitors from Canada, three gutter punks attacked Honoré’s group in Jackson Square. They forced themselves on several of the young students and grabbed them as they tried to escape. They badgered them for PCP and crack. When an adult, an off duty police officer, stepped in to stop the assault, he got into a fight with one of them.

Honoré used her cell phone to call 9-1-1 where she spent a minute or two going back and forth with the operator as to whether she was sure it was really a white male in his 20s with dreadlocks or a young black male in his 20s with dreadlocks who attacked the group.

She tracked down a police officer on horseback shortly after. The attacker was briefly stopped by the cops, but not arrested.

“He just stood there where he attacked us and was laughing,” Honoré said. “How bold is that? Their level of aggression is going up. Maybe it’s because they feel comfortable because of their numbers.”

Also called “crusties” and “oogles,” I remember the gutter punks from my teenage years in ‘90s. Their culture is wholly different from that of the old-fashioned beggar or street conman or the drunk bumming change to score booze.

They had matted hair and were coated in muck. You didn’t make eye contact with them. They were confrontational. You crossed the street if you saw a posse of them. You held your breath when you walked by a gang of them.

What made them so revolting was that they seemed to want to live this way. I recently heard the word “trustafarian” thrown around; trust fund babies looking for a thrill while we are forced to endure them.

It is estimated that there are 2,419 homeless people in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, based on figures from a 2013 Unity study that looked at the number of people homeless on a given night. Most of these people have hit hard times and are on the streets for any number of reasons – unemployment, lack of affordable housing, lack of mental services.

Many people can’t afford to leave the streets, but we’re not talking about that, though it’s hard to tell the difference just from looking. We’re talking about the privilege of a subgroup of mainly young white folks making a conscientious choice to live to rebuke mainstream society.

Honoré shared her concerns in a letter sent to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the entire New Orleans City Council the day after the April 2 incident. A week later, she has yet to hear back from any of the elected officials.

I can’t help but wonder that if they looked different, if these were packs of young people of color sleeping in front of businesses, assaulting tourists, roaming around with packs of dogs, oftentimes off leashes, how would this situation be dealt with?

“It’s appalling. You walk down the street and every single musician is either a gutter punk or someone with some sort of homemade banjo or something,” Honoré said. “This is not New Orleans. This is not the history people have come to see.”

Honoré knows the history of this city. Her family ran Hank’s, a Creole eatery, a block away from John McDonogh 35 High School, for 50 years. She grew up in the Treme, however her family left the area when the tree-lined boulevard in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city was replaced with the Claiborne Overpass.

A nurse by profession, Honoré is most comfortable wrapping her soft curly brown hair in a tignon, putting on a simple white blouse and flowing skirt looking the part of a free woman of color in antebellum New Orleans to talk New Orleans.

“Tourism is our No. 1 industry, but how can they allow the French Quarter to look like this? They are worrying about the noise ordinance, but what about the sights and smells? Honoré said. “It’s scary and I’m supposed to want to go out and promote the city, yet I can’t walk down the street without being intimidated by gutter punks.”

jewel bush, a New Orleans native, is a writer whose work has appeared in The (Houma) Courier, The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles Magazine, and El Tiempo, a bilingual Spanish newspaper. In 2010, she founded MelaNated Writers Collective, a multi-genre group for writers of color in New Orleans dedicated to cultivating the literary, artistic and professional growth of emerging writers. Her three favorite books are Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Catcher in the Rye, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

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  • Joanne Hilton

    Sad, and worrisome.

  • pfvayda

    punks overrun the city. We, a group of artists, had to give up a co-op in the 1100 block of Canal because of young punks selling drugs and harassing passerbys. Two finally killed one of their drug pals and are in jail. others quickly replace them. I am sorry but I think that Landrieu and his crowd are doing a terrible job of keeping the city safe. And you can quote me on that.

  • best_in_show

    Yes, the problem is worse every day. First amendment rights are to be protected at all cost and no one wants to limit those rights. But, it is the right of everyone to express themselves any way they want. What the so-call gutter punks want to express is their absolute hatred for the rest of us. It is not not enough to just irritate and annoy people, but now they are physically aggressive. That cannot be tolerated. The police are basically helpless to protect us from this “self-expression”. The dogs are also an insurance against being arrested. Even if someone is attacked or verbally assaulted the police have to deal with the dogs. As Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler said about the Joker, “Some just want to watch the world burn.”

  • priap1sm

    I knew this would happen when I saw Phish on the Jazzfest schedule.

    • HolyNOLA

      The gutter punk problem has been here for YEARS, not just since Jazz FEst released it lineup.

      Besides, gutter punks don’t like Phish, and they don’t pay to go to Jazz Fest.

      • boathead12

        lighten up! It was a good joke for those of us who Fested through the first Phishpocolypse.

        • priap1sm

          srsly.

        • http://www.brottworks.com/ Andy Brott

          “Phishpocolypse”- that’s as funny as a Dave Mathews burrito. Too bad Quint gets 75 to 95,000 for one day- and we get “bro can you spare a dime”, granola smokin, patchouli drinkin, herds of sheeple, and their dumb circles.
          + With the con$ent decree- our random acts of violence program, can’t ransom them back to mommy for revenue.
          Jam bands @ the Fest, are the same as caution tape @ MG= they suck…
          Best from Freret,
          AB

  • Fat Harry

    I agree with the premise of the article – gutter punks are disgusting, a nuisance and a danger. However, I think it is absurd to make this a racial issue. There are plenty of black bums, beggars, and gangs roaming around the FQ and Faubourgs as well.

  • Kimberly King Jones

    There are multitudes of them on Franklin between N. Robertson and N. Claiborne. They congregate on the neutral grounds and generate tons of trash. Were I to hand a dollar to every one I pass with their hand out at red lights and in parking lots, I would be broke quickly. It amazes me that they ALL have dogs, dogs that no doubt spend a lot of time hungry and I am sure haven’t had shots or any other type of vet care. One of my neighbors had to have a special fixture put on his outside water spigots because they were constantly using his water. You are correct about the fact that they are not homeless in the true sense of the word. They live on the street by choice. They choose not to conform to society by getting jobs to feed themselves. They exist entirely to bum off of regular folks who are working their asses off just trying to get by. It actually irritates the crap out of me.

    • HolyNOLA

      They have dogs so they won’t go to jail, and that’s the ONLY reason you see dogs with these folks.

      • Jim McArthur

        Yes, the NOPD might have to make arrangements to have the SPCA pick up the gutter punks’ dogs. That actually involves making an iota of effort. That is more than we can reasonably expect from the NOPD.

      • Owen Courrèges

        If that’s true it really reflects badly on the NOPD.

        • Jim McArthur

          That’s true on both counts, Owen.

        • HolyNOLA

          It’s like that all over the country.

  • Lynn Masterson O’Shea

    Sorry, I have to agree with Jewel. Black kids are constantly being harassed individually, while walking down the street minding their own business. NOPD and the residents would never condone groups of black beggars; they’d be in OPP so fast their heads would spin. This group is firmly entrenched; many I have spoken with as far back as 2007, and they are still begging at the same corners – Esplanade and Claiborne being one popular spot.
    I think the issue has not been addressed because the Council is too busy with their own agenda – like the “noise” ordinance.

    • Craig

      Yes, there’s evidence of profiling with regards to law enforcement. However the last instance I recall of that was some out-of-town cops during Mardi Gras, not NOPD. A large number (if not majority) of NOPD officers are black, so I don’t buy your argument that the cops are just going crazy on every black kid who dares to walk the streets.

      Your statement about black beggars being thrown in OPP “so fast” is also false. Plenty of black beggars under the Bus-90 overpass and in downtown. The shoe-shiners are beggars in most people’s books as well. Yet they are of no concern to the NOPD as you seem to insist.

      See, now you’ve sucked me into the non-existent racial argument that doesn’t need to be here. Gutterpunks don’t have some kind of white amnesty, get that out of your head. They plain suck and there’s no energy behind fixing the problem on the governmental level. You are correct though, the City Council is too self-absorbed in placating the elite of the city these days. If there’s a racial element to this entire topic, it’s probably there.

    • priap1sm

      The “gutter punk” thing has been an issue since at least the mid-90s. It really blew up around 1996 or 1997 as I recall. They might have left with Katrina, but now that the city is doing well again they seem to be back in force.

  • DJ Fakename

    This is one of the most contemptible articles I’ve ever read. The author, and her “source” are intolerant, xenophobic materialists who imagine they already know other people’s stories and problems. Gee, Jewel, you didn’t even bother talking with any crusties, just printed whatever your crusty-hater friend alleged. If you don’t like how people smell, then don’t interact with them. And if you don’t like seeing crusties in the Quarter, just stay at the mall. That’s where your kind of attitude really belongs.

    • Cherie Unsworth

      So you are saying that it is ok for tourists to come here and have to deal with these types of people? Do you like that smell? You don’t have to interact with them, just walk past them(especially during the summer) and you can’t help but smell them. They are one of the main reasons why I don’t go to the Quarter anymore or if I do it’s early in the morning because most of them are still sleeping. I don’t know the last time I was in the Quarter after 1pm.

      • DJ Fakename

        Being odiferous is not a crime.

  • Memphis504

    great article. I jog everyday and see them smoking drugs and peeing all over this city. The corner of Esplanade and Decatur needs to be cleaned up ASAP. The warmer it gets the more of these GutterPunks show up.

  • John

    Can we talk about all the damn tour guides in this city? I can’t drunkenly walk my dog or yell incoherently at tourists without running into one of these people, shaking down a pack of fat texans with fannypacks for showing them a “true ghost story.” Get a job! This isn’t Disneyworld. I swear, the gutterpunks are doing a lot more to keep this city true-to-form than these money-grubbing tourist-shepherds, whoring out the city’s best haunts as “haunted” to the undeserving and the uninitiated. And if you’re really frightened about the gutterpunks, you should take advantage of Louisiana’s relatively liberal rules concerning firearms.

  • mattj7

    Nice article. The question is, what is the best course of action for getting rid of gutter punks? Even if we had competent government/leadership, I don’t see a clear easy solution, but I’m not suggesting there isn’t a solution.

    All the dilapidated housing throughout the city certainly doesn’t help, as this gives a place for gutter punks to stay (squat)

    • Owen Courrèges

      mattj7,

      There’s no easy solution, but enforcing basic quality-of-life laws would certainly help. If they’re truly harassing people, they should be cited and/or arrested.

      • newlifeuptown

        Owen, I agree that enforcing quality-of-life laws is key.

        The housing component is critical as well. If the city will only enforce against those who can pay a fine (as another commenter suggested), then the city should get more aggressive about fining property owners who do not keep their property secure against squatters. If the owners do not comply, the city should perform the work for them, fine them daily, then eventually send the property to the sheriff sale to be auctioned to the highest bidder. This is what they have recently started doing with unkempt vacant lots, and this what they have ALWAYS done with folks who do not pay their property taxes.

        I buy and renovate homes for a living, so I have walked through quite a few abandoned homes. Besides the “gutter punks”, these squatters also include drug users/dealers/chemists (I have personally seen a makeshift crack lab in an abandoned home on N Robertson which was on the sheriff’s auction block), prostitutes who use it as a pop-up bordello (personally witnessed it on Marais Street next to my renovation project and paid $300 to get my workers to board-up the building myself), salvage thieves who steal the wood trim/floorboards/mantles/brackets/shutters/St Joe bricks/etc and sell them to the various reclaimed material shops around town (personally witnessed on many occasions), and of course the more traditional homeless folks. Unsecured, abandoned buildings are a major scourge of these neighborhoods, and their occupants are the ones you see in the FQ and Triangle. Board up the abandoned buildings within walking distance to these tourist destinations and watch their numbers dwindle. The only ones that will remain will be the gutter-punk-light versions who play in little bands on Royal Street and secretly wear deodorant. These folks (and their music) aren’t so bad, and they’re only playing gutter punk until they hit 30 years old and decide to get a job.

        • Nightingales_

          Um…what about housing the homeless? It will cost us less than what we’re currently spending on them in the ER. Maybe you or someone you know in the biz could get with the city officials and work out a property deal that gives these people a decent place to live. I can’t believe that didn’t even cross your mind. You can’t just drive people away like common pests – they’re *people*, and so many of you seem to forget that.

  • broadmoorer

    Pretty much everyone else made valid points. I do wonder what has caused the apparent resurgence in these types of folks in recent times; they were definitely not this prevalent a couple of years ago. And I guarantee you that they are not from here. And I agree that they have a bad attitude. Most of the other legitimately homeless people I encounter on a regular basis here are mostly polite and grateful. I’d be interested to learn who these seemingly newcomers are and how they got here.

    And I’m not going to say anything about the subject of color other than the fact that the opinion about color the author stated in this article is wildly hypocritical in comparison with her other pieces.

  • Diane Goodman-Daniel

    My understanding is that the reason so many gutter punks have dogs is so that it is a much bigger pain in the *ss to arrest them. I have no friends who fit this category so I can’t confirm.

  • Jim McArthur

    Craig, you are correct: unfortunately. :-( New Orleans basically doesn’t even HAVE a Police Department. For 12 days a year we have guys in neat uniforms and oldtime patrolman hats, doing a great job of crown control: also of flirting with female parade goers. For the other 353 days every year. . . where are they? Unless they are getting paid to work a detail somewhere, they are nowhere to be found.

  • Jim McArthur

    CCM, that’s probably because the residents of NYC forced the city to pay attention to their needs. The residents of NOLA don’t care about anything, other than parades and football. This city exists to draw tourists. The residents exist only to pay property taxes, and to work at low-paying jobs that cater to tourists. When the local people start paying half as much attention to crime, potholes, burned-out street lights, bad schools, inefficiency and corruption in local government, etc. as they do to Saints games and Mardi Gras Krewes: then and only then will things start to improve. But. . . that’s not going to happen.

  • boathead12

    My brother wrote this funny take on these things years ago. True today as it was then: WASPafarian

    http://youtu.be/ElZb56WpXjw

  • Jim McArthur

    Am I paying attention to what is happening in my own city? Yes, I am. Every day, I see new potholes opening up: and the old ones getting wider: and deeper. Every day, I see more street lights dying. The one outside my house has been out since November. My neighbor complained about it in November. I complained about it in December. It has still not been fixed. Every day, I read about robberies, rapes, car jackings, home invasions, and murders.
    My comment is hardly asinine. If enough people here cared enough to complain, something would be being done to remedy these problems. But every day, they get worse. By “they”, I mean the people. And the problems.

  • Jim McArthur

    Agreed! I mean, we don’t want to condemn a whole genre of young healthy people who have chosen to be dirty, lice-ridden panhandlers, rather than hold jobs, perform productive work, and contribute to society: do we? Why, I’m sure the vast majority of them are really NICE, dirty, lice-ridden panhandlers!

    • Nightingales_

      Jim, you are part of what is wrong with this city. You simply cannot generalize a set of bad behaviors to an entire group of people, especially when your opinion of them is likely based in anecdotes and assumptions. That’s how stereotypes are born. Do you talk to gutter punks? Do you know enough of them to make a valid point against them? Probably not.

      We need to take care of our homeless and be careful to find them among those who choose to live on the streets. Because Jim, one of those gutter punks may end up being you or someone you love through tragic circumstance. I hope your foot doesn’t embed itself deep into your digestive system before that misfortune could ever befall you.

  • Mike Flood

    Craig, I hate to say it, but I have to agree with you.

  • Anonymous

    This is a load of ignorance. I’ve been in New Orleans for ten years, and am a home-owner and mother. I’ve helped build the playgrounds your children play on. I’ve been serving your food and drinks and smiling for the tourists for years. But before all this I traveled the same as these kids. Yeah, there are a few bad apples. Aren’t there always? But to say that they are actually a problem or ruining New Orleans culture is absurd. And believe me, the police care. I’ve been to court for sitting down. I’ve been to court for playing music. And to say anything bad about people playing music for money on ‘home-made’the banjos? You may want to research the beginnings of jazz. Educate yourself before you judge people you don’t know. You nay well hear some sad and beautiful stories.

  • Trip Marze

    Drinking in public is totally legal in NOLA… Really, you don’t understand why gutterpunks migrate there… either accept it, or change the laws. Punks drink, homeless people drink, put the two together… and head south to N.O.

  • H M D

    put them in the city lock up and see how they like it. . . keep putting them in the city lock up until they leave the city.

  • H M D

    I remember going to mardi gras and new years eves in the Quarter where a policeman would run your ass in fast for being in a fight and not fighting back! times have changed.

  • uptown_rooster

    Sibyl, you literally just posted this above:

    ” I just think its stupid to judge a whole sub culture based on a few bad people.”

    I guess that statement doesn’t apply though when it’s you judging Californians and New Yorkers. Not only are you wrong on ‘gutterpunks,’ you’re also a hyprocrite.

  • Mary Dawkins

    Gentrification started decades before there were such a person as a gutter punk. But, I do agree with you that they are not the biggest threat to our Fr. Quarter. I think the biggest problem has been that the city has allowed absentee owners to own a vast portion of the neighborhood. It has gutted the area of year round residents who then, in turn, need groceries stores and other businesses that service residents. And it leaves vast area vacant for much of the year fostering crime. Gentrification would be a blessing for the Quarters if it was people who actually cared about New Orleans enough to live and invest in the neighborhood.

  • Mary Dawkins

    not usually.

  • Mary Dawkins

    and wasn’t she squatting? is that the same story?

  • Mary Dawkins

    So, the police were contacted and did nothing. Hmmm. Surely that has nothing to do with our continuing crime problems. (sarcasm)

  • Todd Souvignier

    Y’all seem intent on identifying an underclass that you can persecute. Note that the complaints lodged here (they steal, they’re filthy, they’re drunk, they don’t work, they’re scary) are exactly the same things bigots have said about the Gypsies (Roma) in Europe for a thousand years. I hasten to add that the “FauxBeau” is a fiction, an appealing urban legend and stereotype much like the “Welfare Queen.” I urge jewel, and the rest of you, to get over your fear and talk to people. What you will discover is that crusties are on the street for a thousand different reasons, most of them pretty awful. By and large, they’re escaping something at home, usually sexual or physical abuse. Also please note that we’re talking about children; there are very few Crusty lifers. It’s teenagers, and kids in their early 20s; society used to call them runaways. People seem offended that one might actually choose (or be cast into) existing as a parasite upon a society which one is explicitly rejecting. Well, it makes perfect sense to me, and it’s rarely the final destination.

    • Peris Brodsky

      It’s not an underclass, that’s the point! They are a mockery of the real underclass, because they have options, and they have chosen this parasitic lifestyle. They are not children anymore than all of us are who were born of parents. They give the true homeless a bad name.

  • Vanessa DavisHenry

    you are right, they weren’t this bad, hell some were even conciderate! How this changed and yes I saw one cut someone in the Quarter, has been allowed to escalate is beyond me! Baby-girl, I wonder the same thing!

  • ibworthy2

    The point is NOT the smell !! It’s their aggressive manner !! If you don’t give them money, or your beer they curse you and continually taunt you when they see you another day !! I don’t look at them and I don’t say anything to them . I had a lady tonight ask me why I personally allow these kids to act like this in my neighborhood . REALLY ?! REALLY ?! I’m sad that they have become so rude and aggressive ! Be nice or leave isnt that what the Dr says ? I agree

  • Mark Smith

    The reason the gutterpunks have dogs is because if you have a dog, you can’t be arrested for loitering. The dogs must think, “This is the longest walk ever.”

  • Stacey
  • http://lastrit.es Konrad

    Not a bad article, but it’s completely ignorant to lump gutterpunks with actual musicians playing on the street. Looks like the writer should take a jazz history class and see where New Orleans music came from. Reading this article was like watching an amazing 99-yard run followed by a fumble on the one-yard-line. Nice going.

  • GutterHunk

    It sounds like someone just got out of school and finally noticed something is going on around them. It’s easier to rely on stereotypes and hearsay instead of doing real research.

    “Crusties” and “Oogles” are different things entirely.
    Talk to more than one person when you write stories, multiple sources is never a bad thing.

  • Jim McArthur

    AH! So then, DJ: you’re saying that the lice these gutter punks harbor, are so integrated with their carcasses that trying to remove the lice via soap and hot water would be fatal to the gutter punks? I didn’t realize that their infestations were THAT bad!

    • Nightingales_

      God Jim, you could gather up all the filth from every homeless person in this city, and you would still be the bigger scumbag.

  • HolyNOLA

    All that is true, but it doesn’t change the real reason.

  • Confederate cash

    We have far bigger problems in my opinion.”

    …you can certainly say that again. Some people are just clueless….

    “Right, go ahead a complain about the gutter punks, who are not harming a single soul.
    But God forbid, Jewel Bush or Ms honore having any issues with the cowardly acts of violence that has been going on in and around the Marigny, Bywater and Treme by 15 and 16 year old black thugs. Many of these brutal attacks have rendered their victim’s in comas.(read baseball bat attacks).
    And the “knockout” game played by black teens on lone White victims has the entire Country on notice. Yeah. Gutterpunks are a real problem compared with the lawless, COWARDLY, black teens roaming the Quarter at night, mercilessly and violently, beating innocent lone White people.

  • Rook King

    One of the most disturbing things about that story is that the guys were not arrested for assaulting people. What’s that about? My wallet was stolen by a woman I had in my hotel room last November. Instead of pinning her down and twisting her arm and making her give it back, I called the police. They didn’t search her. They said they were there “to write a report.” Have the New Orleans police gone soft? What is going on there?

  • Nightingales_

    Kathryn, are you paying attention to which neighborhoods are being taken care of versus those that are left to crumble? It seems like you might live in the “nice” side of town.

  • SM Joiner

    Just spent Easter weekend in new orleans with my husband, love this city. I was shocked to see the gutter punks so aggressive. One guy on Easter Sunday walking with his wife on the river walk, had a gutter punk jump in front of his face and laughed and kept telling him to hit him and then give him money. He was super aggressive, almost in a Clockwork Orange mentality. Also, the signs they hold stated “f@ck you, give me money.” And as mentioned in the article, there are people that have no choice but to live on the street and do need money. I would normally never judge but the attitude (and i heard a group make fun of a tour group) was unsettling. Decatur Street used to be my favorite and it also has an unsettling air. This is definitely changing the Quarter and I wouldn’t for the first time recommend to friends to take their children there.