Shelters open up 100-plus beds for homeless living under expressway

Cots at the Ozanam Inn homeless shelter won't be sitting empty by Thursday night.

"Tomorrow, especially this first week, we're going to be expecting a lot more people coming here," said Director Biaggio DiGiovanni. "We'll have room for an additional 30 people."

Most of those people have been calling places under the Pontchartrain Expressway home. About 140 people live under the underpass, but the city says it's become a serious health concern. By Thursday, they want everyone packed up and gone to make way for cleaning crews.

"We're at the point that because of rodents and because of debris that's there, we really need to get under there and clean it out," said Charlotte Parent, New Orleans health director.

Monday's announcement left many scrambling.

"Where are we supposed to go?" asked a homeless man who didn't want to give his name. "What are we supposed to do?"

The city says it has been working with Ozanam Inn, the New Orleans Mission, and other shelters in the area to make sure everyone will have a place to go. Some shelter workers will be in as early as 3:30 Thursday morning to prepare.

"We are giving them an alternative," said DiGiovanni, "not just telling them 'OK, best of luck.'"

The city of New Orleans has tried to clear out the encampment before, but people always come back. This time, the city is turning to more permanent solutions, like barricades. Parent says the intent is to close the area eventually.

And while places like Ozanam Inn will most likely be a temporary stop for many of the homeless, the shelter hopes it's a step towards finding a more permanent place.

"Hopefully once we get them into a facility, we can get them into a permanent place or housing to keep them from ending up back on the street," said DiGiovanni.

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