Treme residents decry growing homeless camp along Claiborne, business owners say patrons being harassed

The community meeting was hosted by city councilmembers and state leaders to address concerns residents have about the growing homelessness problem in Treme.
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 10:43 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - City and state leaders held a community meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss a growing homeless encampment underneath the I-10 overpass in Treme.

The meeting was held by Councilmen Eugene Green and Freddie King, and was attended by a variety of city and state leaders and State Representative Royce Duplessis.

“It has to be a total shift in paradigm in how we deal with homelessness in this city,” said one resident.

“A lot of people are begging our patrons, begging for handouts, they walk up on us even in our locked cars,” said another who owns a business in the area.

A large homeless encampment can be seen underneath the I-10 overpass, along the middle of Claiborne Avenue. Residents and business owners expressed frustration, saying themselves or their customers are being consistently harassed, having to step over dirty needles and other garbage.

“We need to know what you all can do for us, to make our place safer,” said Louis Charbonnet, the owner of Charbonnet Funeral Home, which has been in operation in Treme since 1883.

Charbonnet held the meeting at his business, and around 60 people attended.

“This is the oldest African-American subdivision in the country. Treme is the oldest established neighborhood, Black neighborhood in the country,” Charbonnet said. “There’s significant significance. We can’t just allow it to be destroyed.”

He said the homeless population in the area exploded after the city cleared out the abandoned Bywater naval base in July.

“We have harassment. People coming up and just panhandling everybody that’s here. Everybody they see, they ask them for money. The stench, the smell, you can smell it’s not a clean smelling neighborhood anymore,” Charbonnet said.

Charbonnet said he and other area business owners have an agreement with the state that allows patrons to park in the parking lot underneath the overpass. A representative with the Louisiana Department of Transportation Development (DOTD) said the agreement would allow the business owners to fence off the area, which was a solution discussed by city councilmembers as well.

One topic that was covered at the meeting was the bureaucracy surrounding the homeless issue in the area, and the difficulty that comes with addressing it.

“It just seems like there’s really no one in charge,” Duplessis said. “It seems like, of everyone who wants to try and do something about this, there’s some level of shared responsibility, but there’s really no true accountability when it comes to this issue.”

Duplessis asked a representative with DOTD about the possibility of a local entity becoming involved in maintaining the area underneath the overpass, which is technically state property, while maintaining public access.

The representative pointed to the agreement that exists already, and said most of the area is already joint use with the city.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Martin v. Boise, a ruling that made it difficult for municipalities and states to enforce anti-camping laws if there aren’t enough beds available locally to house all of the homeless people cleared out from public property.

Martin v. Boise could make it difficult for either the city or the state to come in and clear out the encampment outright.

When the DOTD representative was asked if the state could fence off the area, he said the state has a number of similar requests statewide, and that it would be cost prohibitive.

“It’s really hurting my business. I’m not, as a national corporation did two weeks ago, [able to] just close down and move out,” Charbonnet said. “I’ve been here since 1883. I can’t move.”

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