New Orleans working to house people ahead of Tchoupitoulas Street encampment sweep

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 10:17 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A day before the Office of Homeless Services and Strategies clears the homeless encampment on Tchoupitoulas and Calliope St., only a dozen or so people remain, including Richard Raffle.

Raffle sat in his wheelchair asking for handouts at the red light for hours Thursday (Nov. 16) morning, trying to get as much change as he could before he had to find a new place to live after the Friday morning sweep.

“I’m not proud to be doing this, but with my circumstance, I need money,” Raffle said.

Raffle says he’s called the encampment home for about two months now, after he was injured in a fall that left him wheelchair-bound while working at a carnival.

He says the city posted flyers on electric poles, fences and trees earlier this week to inform the camp of about 100 people that they had to leave the area with their belongings by 7 a.m. on November 17. The flyers say anyone remaining on the property will be charged with trespassing and could face a $500 fine for the first offense and even more fines and possible jail time for further violations.

“It’s going to be hard but it’s just part of life though I guess,” Raffle said.

The city is working with UNITY of Greater New Orleans to find homes for as many people in the encampment as possible, even tapping into rapid rehousing dollars to speed up the process.

“(With rapid rehousing dollars) there are no things that get in the way of getting that person off the street. It’s just getting that person off the street and getting them into housing services fast,” Nathaniel Fields, Director of the Office of Homeless Services, said.

He continued, “Earlier this year, I was honored to be chosen to lead the newly established Office of Homeless Services and Strategy (OHSS), dedicated to creating solutions to assist our unhoused population through expanding resources, outreach and partnerships in addition to focusing on the root causes of homelessness, like affordable housing. A major part of our strategic plan is decommissioning homeless encampments in targeted areas through a ‘direct-to-housing’ approach. Now, we are closer to achieving our goal of low or no unsheltered homelessness by the end of 2025. Through the tireless work of my staff and our nonprofit partners, we have successfully rehoused 30 individuals and will be officially closing the Tchoupitoulas encampment this Friday, Nov. 17. Utilizing a $1.1 million grant from Louisiana Housing Corporation, OHSS and partners began connecting people living in encampments to subsidized apartments in October, with the goal of housing 100 people by the end of the year. Every individual and family living in New Orleans deserves a safe, comfortable place to live, and I am proud to be part of this significant progress.”

So far, UNITY of Greater New Orleans has successfully housed 30 people from the camp in various apartments and homes across the city. Executive Director Martha Kegel says her organization prioritizes working with homeless people to try to get the housing that would make them feel as safe and secure as possible. Kegel also hopes to house another 70 people from the camp in the coming weeks.

“This is a problem that effects everybody. For them its a tragedy that shortens lives,” Kegel said. “People are very excited to finally have housing. The vast majority of unhoused people desperately want housing.”

Local shelters in the area say the incoming sweep is coming at a time when they are seeing an influx in people who need their help and they will be offering as many resources as they can.

“A person that’s broken, we try to get them up, bring them back and see them flourish back in life, you know,” Jerry Ruffin, office manager at Ozanam Inn, said. “I meet people at the camps I tell them the shelters are always open if they want to come.”

Ruffin says Ozanam Inn has seen a bump in meal-seekers. The shelter is prepping its programs to handle an increase in needy people after the sweep and ensuring they know of all available services.

“We’ve got a lot of things that can help you. A doctor is here. LSU dentists come on Saturdays,” Ruffin said.

Grace at the Greenlight will also expand their dining options in the coming days and will continue helping clients who might be struggling to find resources after the sweep.

“Right now we are serving an average of 150 a day but with the sweep that’s happening we are expecting an increase,” Jena White, Outreach Worker for Grace at the Greenlight, said. “We have been a moral support for people daily.”

And while city agencies and local non-profits rush to take care of as many homeless people as they can, officials say the push to re-house people will be intense next year when a 3-year, $15 million federal grant kicks in that could potentially house 420 people.

“We really need as much help as we can get. Because the year ahead its going to be an enormous housing push, a tremendous amount of people being housed,” Kegel said.

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