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Opposition grows against proposed low-barrier homeless shelter near schools

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

The opposition to New Orleans' controversial low-barrier homeless shelter is pitting an entire neighborhood against Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office. 

"Folks have come together, and we now have almost 1,400 signatures on the petition asking the mayor to consider a different site for the shelter," New Orleans College Prep Founder Ben Kleban said. 

The petition includes council members Latoya Cantrell and Stacy Head as well as several other community leaders. 

The fight comes as the city looks to reduce homelessness and help those in need find permanent housing and receive medical help by building a proposed low-barrier shelter at 3101 Erato St. in Central City. The low-barrier shelter would be less restrictive and allow those who use the facility to come and go freely.  

But the proposed location is sandwiched between two public schools, Sylvania Williams College Prep and the future site of Booker T. Washington High School. 

Despite the push back, the mayor's office is pushing forward. 

"The right location is where the problem exists, where it's cost effective and close to service providers, and we think the location we have fits all of those things," communications director for the mayor's office Tyronne Walker said. 

The Erato shelter would assist people with drugs and alcohol problems. But the site is within the drug-free school zone. The campus of the elementary school is about 400 feet away, and the high school is even closer. Those caught with drugs in their possession in the area would face harsher penalties and even more charges. 

The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority is purchasing the property for the city. The organization released a statement saying: "The Board of Commissioners will be addressing the matter regarding purchasing 3101 Erato Street at its regularly scheduled December 7, 2016 Real Estate & Development Committee Meeting. The Board's committee and regular board meetings are open to the public." 

Also, the value of the property is in dispute. 

NORA is currently in a purchase agreement with the property owner for $750,000, even though the Orleans Assessor valued the property at $290,000.

The city's appraisal valued the property at $696,000 and says more than $381,000 in upgrades were made to the building, but there are no records on permits given for such upgrades.

The city's appraisal assumes there's no environmental contamination on the site. However, the mayor's office says it is contaminated because it used to be a dump. 

The mayor's office said only five percent of the site is required to be remediated because the majority of the property has a concrete slab that is not required by Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to be removed for remediation. 

"We've been working with LDEQ for a number of  months presenting our plan. We've have not gotten anything negative back from them," Walker said. 

The mayor's office did consider a spot some believed was more suitable for the shelter near the parish prison at 3222 Perdido St. The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness confirms the city would have to pay FEMA millions to re-purpose the property. That price is well above the city's $1 million start-up budget for this project. 

The mayor's office also stated it would not select the Perdido St. location because HUD would financially penalize the city for seeming to criminalize the homeless population. 

HUD confirms the agency would not penalize the city for the possible location near a prison. The agency believes city officials may have misunderstood an incentive program that gives bonuses to cities that work to provide help to homeless. 

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