Mar 172016
 
People sleeping in the doorway of a Royal Street business this past weekend. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

People sleeping in the doorway of a Royal Street business this past weekend. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus

Sunday morning during an early walk through the CBD and French Quarter, I encountered more than two dozen homeless men and women sleeping in the doorways of some of our city’s most fashionable establishments. While I paused to shoot a photograph on Royal Street, a State Police cruiser passed right by, unfazed. Whether people are sleeping (or eating or anything even more personal) in a vestibule, outside the Cabildo, or along the Moonwalk, it’s an unsightly, unsanitary situation that negatively impacts tourism and everyone’s quality of life.

The NOPD has the ability to pick up those who sleep in public places and bring them to Marlin Gusman’s already over-crowded prison where they will take full advantage of the city’s limited resources and bed space for two weeks or more. In the winter, many may even want to get picked up to enjoy a warm bed and three square meals.

The City is correct in fencing under the bridge. Unity for the Homeless is on point in their quest to develop a day facility with showers and lockers, if they can identify an appropriate location which their clients can reach easily. Agencies including the New Orleans Mission do a great job of working with those who want help. But many — like a man I will call “Sam” — don’t want help.

Sam collects disability due to a childhood malady. Therefore, he is a candidate for food stamps, a housing voucher, and “free” health care. He could benefit from job training and might even be able to find a part-time job. Instead he spends his days as a “doorman” at a downtown convenience store.

Many of our out-of-state homeless “visitors” should just move on. It would be cheaper to buy them a ticket “home” or to their next warm weather destination than allowing them to consume more of our city’s precious resources.

Police don’t want to be bothered with picking up the homeless. A better solution must be found.

TWO APRIL 9TH TAX PROPOSALS DESERVE PUBLIC SUPPORT

Who among us wants to pay additional taxes? Who believes the City needs to improve street lights, sidewalks, curbs and drainage? Who believes firefighters need to keep up their trucks and equipment? Who believes we need better recreational facilities? Who believes we need more police?

The City of New Orleans is placing two bond proposals on the April 9 ballot – one for streets and capital improvements and one for police and fire needs. The city asserts that there will be no increase in the current tax rate need to fund the “relatively modest” streets and capital improvements bond proposition. Many citizens should consider supporting it.

Even the generally tax-averse Bureau of Governmental Research called the streets and capital improvements proposal a “more holistic approach.” Let’s be clear — there will still be a long-term need to find more funding for routine street maintenance sorely needed in many portions of Uptown, Gentilly and Lakeview. BGR says the City should also figure out how to align the life expectancy of specific capital improvements with the duration of the bond repayment period.

Also on the same ballot is a second proposition which would require a tax increase. It will support fire and police, with two-thirds of the funds dedicated to recruiting, hiring, equipping and paying for more police officers. There’s no question that many residents are not safe and that the current police force cannot keep up with New Orleans’ crime.

It’s also not fair that New Orleans firefighters should have to wait decades to get the retirement money the city owes them. We also need more fire fighters to fully staff existing operations. Who would want a fire truck coming to their home or business without a full crew?

As BGR suggested, the administration and the City Council must monitor the use of all these funds to ensure hiring and other goals are met. With elections less than two years away, the voters will be demanding accountability.

Danae Columbus has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. She currently works for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by her public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

  • uptownguy

    I find the tone of the beginning of this piece to be heartless. “Sleeping in the doorways of some of our city’s most fashionable establishments” implies that the homeless should be sure to stay out of sight of the author and her peers, perhaps in a less “fashionable” part of town. Stating that these unfortunate souls may “want to get picked up to enjoy a warm bed and three square meals,” in OPP of all places, is particularly short sighted and harsh.

    I implore the author to have some compassion and consider the actual plight of the city’s homeless, and not suggest that we buy a ticket for them to move on and be someone else’s problem. Someone doing something “even more personal,” which I presume is referring to relieving themselves outside, should be stopped and arrested or fined as necessary. The city may not have the financial resources to help these folks, but they are here. The tone of this piece reads as if the author’s “early walk” was disturbed by the audacity of folks trying to find somewhere safe to sleep. Shame on you, Ms Columbus.

  • Deux amours

    I am against the new tax. The mayorhas said he will pay the firemen even if the tax fails, and we haven’t been able to hire enough police with the money presently available.

  • Teresa

    I agree with Uptown guy. I hope that Ms Columbus never experiences a financial setback and becomes one of the downtrodden. What is needed is a safe place for the homeless and efforts made to provide them with the help that they need. A majority of the homeless are mentally ill and it is hoped that one day, this city and this country will expend the resources necessary to care for them.

    • LGD Resident

      Your tone will change when they’re camped out in front of your front door. Which they will be soon at this rate.

      • Shannon Cravens

        My ex-husband owns a gallery in the Quarter. I used to work with him. I can not tell you how many times we found used women’s sanitary supplies, human excrement, and or vomit in our Vestibule. What makes that all the more shocking is that the business is across the street from the Monteleone, which is well lit 24/7. As gross as that is, I always pitied my fellow human beings that clearly felt like they didn’t have any other option. Being homeless means you don’t have a bathroom, or security. Sleeping in a “public” space offers some small degree of safety, especially for a woman who finds herself in that awful situation. Being poor is not a crime, nor is being mentally ill. We need to come up with a better solution to this ever – growing problem than “Let them eat cake!”.

  • Deux amours

    The doorsteps are just one of the serial sleeping pads that the transient population uses in rotation.. They prefer the Mission, but they get moved out after a while, and they have to sleep somewhere while they wait for a fresh period of eligibility.

  • UptownLady

    The homeless are everywhere these day, even in my small town in Indiana……sad state of affairs in these United States. Police are not the solution.

  • Joseph Blow

    Do your research and learn the law before you decide to criticize the police about the jobs that they perform. There is no law against being poor and homeless. There was at one time a municipal law that prohibited sleeping in public, obstructing public passages (sidewalks), and begging. THOSE LAWS HAVE BEEN RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL BY THE COURTS AND HAVE BEEN REPEALED MS. COLUMBUS. The police ENFORCE the law they don’t make the law.

    Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, then to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt!

  • Naomi D.

    I’ve lived in areas with homeless. The majority were decent people, most wanting but unable to afford a place with a roof. There were a couple who preferred the street, and there were some too mentally unbalanced to know where they were. As my neighbors, they warned me which people were dangerous, but even the dangerous ones were usually unbalanced.

    I’m surprised the author published this. It was foolhardy. Her immediate, impulsive reaction took over her pen. New Orleans is expensive. Rents in my neighborhood have quadrupled, sometimes more, in ten years. Former rentals are now owner-occupied. Jindal shut down almost all mental facilities in the state, particularly in New Orleans. New residents around Oranam Inn, which opened on Camp in the mid-50’s, want it shut down, as it affects their experience and property values.

    Those dirty, smelly, sometimes insane and yes, sometimes dangerous, street people are just that – people. The rant above (because that’s how it comes across) stops short of Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal. I’m hoping that perhaps that is the author’s intent. To shock others with smug privilege and fortune. Otherwise, she’d be wise to pull this.

  • Naomi D.

    The homeless, as stated by another, are everywhere, not just New Orleans. Many are from here. I lived in one area where many of my neighbors were homeless. The majority were respectful, timid people who were without the choice of a roof over their heads. Only one or two wanted to actually live outside. I was warned about which were dangerous by the others. I did what I could for the children.

    I remember when President Reagan gutted the healthcare system, in lieu of “mainstreaming.” Within months, I saw an increase of mentally damaged people wandering the streets. Governor Jindal, years later, made it worse, closing down many facilities, particularly in New Orleans – twenty psych beds for a city of several hundred thousand. Those most needing care were shoved on the streets, leading to a policewoman shot by her own gun, parents’ heads bashed by their son.

    I hope this was written with the same intention as Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal,” and not that impulse ruled over good judgment. I look forward to her commentary outlining real solutions to this sad, shameful situation.

  • graspthesun

    In addition to the comments that have already been posted to this article, I take particular offense to the comments about “Sam.” Surely this woman did her research and learned that the challenges that the homeless face and the responsibilities that she feels “Sam” should live up to are not at all related and that her anecdote is a total non sequitur in this opinion.

  • The Goat

    It is a health and safety issue first and foremost for both the homeless and the citizens with homes. It isn’t safe to have them jumping out in traffic panhandling as they will get hit by cars and cause wrecks so giving money directly to the homeless must be discouraged as Unity will tell you to “never give them money” as most of them have substance abuse issues and mental health issues. If the various people and groups stopped feeding them and people stopped giving them money then they might move on or be herded into places that would provide proper facilities for feeding and housing them. The problem that Unity and other organizations meet with many homeless is that they do all kinds of work to get them into transitional housing and then the people decide to just take off unannounced for many months and then lose their spot just to show up again as homeless. The Gutter Punk kids are homeless by choice and those just need to be run out of town as they are just nasty. We need long term residential mental health treatment for many of these folks but many of them are just pure substance abusers that might need to just be put somewhere so they can shoot up or drink themselves to death quickly as a form of euthanasia.