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Parents fearful over proposed homeless shelter 1 block from schools

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

On Monday, parents and school administrators screamed for New Orleans leaders to stop a project that would sandwich a low-barrier homeless shelter in between two school campuses. 

"I need you all to stand with me for this neighborhood, for this community, for the parents and kids of this school and demand leaders in this city listen to people before they make decisions," New Orleans College Prep founder Ben Kleban said.  

In the city, it's estimated that more than 1,500 people live in the streets, beg on its corners and sleep under its overpasses. In an effort to reduce the homeless population, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced a decision to build a shelter in a vacant Central City warehouse at 3101 Erato Street. 

The shelter would provide medical attention for various issues and could house entire families together. 

"The vision for this 75 to 100-bed facility is for male and female sections, 24/7 operations with 24/7 security including robust security cameras. The Sixth District [police headquarters] is just three minutes away. NOPD will advise on security plans for this operation," Landrieu said. 

But for residents and parents, security is not the only problem with the proposed shelter - it is the location. 

"This is just a natural walk-through for the kids," resident Morris James said. 

The proposed location sits a block away from the K-8 school Sylvanie Williams, and it is also a block away from where Booker T. Washington High School will be built. 

The low-barrier shelter would welcome anyone, including those with previous issues of drug and alcohol abuse, and would also help convicted sex offenders.  

"I don't think it should be there because we have a lot of kids going to school. They are going to be at Booker T. Washington, and we just do not need that in this area at all. We have to think about our kids," said Dorothy White, whose grandchildren attend Sylvanie Williams. 

During a meeting Monday night, parents and school administrators demanded answers from the mayor's office on why there is already a $750,000 purchase agreement to buy the land without the community's input.  

Kleban said he only got answers from the mayor's office after he went to the media with his concerns. 

"I have been working very hard as soon as I got wind of this plan to ask the mayor's office to have a meeting like this. I did that for almost two months. Nothing could get scheduled," Kleban said. "Only after Friday when I'm in the newspaper about it do we get a press conference from the mayor and do we have this meeting tonight."

Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell, who helped in the search for the property, suggested another location would be more appropriate. 

"We found a spot that could handle it all, and that is at 3222 Perdido Street," Cantrell said.  

That site is currently owned by the Orleans Sheriff's Office on the detention center's property and would be much farther away from any school. 

But the mayor's office believes the Erato Street site fits better with the shelter's $2 million start-up budget and sends a better message.  

"A site inside of a jail complex, in the mayor's opinion, sends the wrong message to our citizens and to the homeless. People who are homeless need a hand up. They just need help. They are not criminals," office spokesman Tyronne Walker said.   

However, parents and residents said that's not their priority - they are more concerned about the safety of their children. 

"Just living in the city you're fearful," Sylvanie Williams parent Latoya Johnson said. "This just adds to it. It's stressful, very much stressful." 

During the Monday night meeting, the mayor's liaison would not give a straight answer to the dozens of people in attendance on whether the proposal is already a done deal. 

The city will hold six community meetings to address the concerns of residents and parents, but it is unclear if the mayor's office will address the concern over the shelter's proximity to the schools. 

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