New Orleans’ tent city is no more

August 11, 2008

During a recent visit to The City that Care Forgot, I was surprised to see that a post-Katrina staple had vanished. All that remains of the makeshift tent city once located under an I-10 overpass, is vacant concrete surrounded by chain link.  As of July 17, the last of the 250 homeless campers were removed from the site. Fortunately, it was not due to Mayor Nagin’s quazi-humorous recommendation of one-way bus tickets out of the city, but instead was part of an outreach endeavor executed by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a homeless service organization.  For several months, UNITY workers had been shuttling residents of the tent city to the uptown Salvation Army for needs assessment and services.

In spite of this massive effort, when I passed the yards of fencing that had replaced the rows of tents, my heart sank a little.  Sure, the tent city was rat and drug infested, unsanitary and unsightly, but sometimes an eyesore can have an upside.  The high concentration of homeless campers in a visible and frequented area forced attention to be paid by locals, voluntourists, NBA players and even the presently scandalicious former presidential candidate John Edwards, not to mention local and national media.  One could say that the area under the I-10 overpass, where Claiborne and Canal Street intersect, was a strategic spot for New Orleans’ homeless.  In a matter of months, 250 of New Orleans’ 12,000 homeless individuals were seen, heard, and assisted; a rare combination even three years after Katrina. 

In short, the tent city worked.  A condensed display of the city’s prevalent homeless population led to concrete assistance.  Now, the fences along its perimeter block out any hope for its ressurection.  Perhaps another underpass or intersection will take its place, because God knows there are plenty of potential tent city residents who only need a home.

posted by Sarah Smith

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