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New Orleans, La. - Jackson Square is an iconic location steeped in New Orleans history, but merchants say it has become a haven for people engaging in illicit activities.
"Just this past weekend someone was engaging in sexual activity right outside on a bench. Everyone saw," said Brianna Juarez, a worker at Jackie's, a boutique next to the square.
She said most days there is something to cringe at.
"A lot of them get violent with each other right outside the store," said Juarez.
"Thirteen people stomping on one person, that was the worst one I've seen out here. It's not safe," said tarot card reader Carolene Reinhart.
She said there is little respect for the law.
"We've got people sitting there injecting heroin," said Reinhart.
Many said the vagrants are infringing on their businesses.
"I've been robbed in the store, my boss has had food thrown at him," said Chris Nizialek, who works at a photo shop along the square. She said rain sends people camping out on the grass to the sidewalks outside the businesses, and more problems occur.
"Many times the tourists are actually walking in the rain to avoid the people who are on the sidewalks - blocking the sidewalks, Nizialek said.
"We have nowhere to, we have no way to go," said William Lopez, who identified himself as homeless.
Residents and people who own or work in nearby businesses said it is not just what happens on the sidewalks that is bothersome. They said at times some of the homeless people come into their businesses, and it's intimidating.
"I really don't want to turn them away, because we're afraid they might get violent. Because some have come in, actually told me some violent things, kind of threatened me," Juarez said.
Lopez said not all homeless people cause problems.
"I run errands here, I don't bother anybody and I'm sitting on the bench and the police officers always harass me," Lopez said.
Still others want more police presence.
"What I would like to see is a more concerted effort, where it's perhaps patrolled on a more regular basis, and that there's coordination between these entities as opposed to just crisis response - when you call, we come," Nizialek said.
The councilperson whose district includes the French Quarter agrees there are problems.
"I'm working with the French Market Corporation and the Administration to increase Quality of Life officer coverage so that increasing problems for our residents and businesses will be reversed, while the homeless population can be adequately served through a variety of administrative programs," said District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer.
"It's the jewel of the country, and everybody who comes to New Orleans comes to Jackson Square," said Nizialek.
The mayor's office said 244 chronically homeless individuals have been placed in housing as part of its "200 Homes in 100 Days" Campaign.
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