Friday, December 21, 2007


I spent most of my time yesterday with the homeless that I have met, asking who got signed up for housing and who got a motel stay.

Most of the population that was left in tent city as of yesterday afternoon, were single men and 95% of them were African American.

Most had neither a short term stay in a motel room nor the prospect of affordable housing. Just about all of them worked (it was raining today so that those who had construction jobs were off, and some took off from their jobs hoping that they might find shelter with Unity for the Homeless before getting "fenced out". I was told time and again how having a place to stay helps getting to the job and being clean for work more possible.

Herbert (who is the fiance of Catherine whom I spoke of in another post - I just found out in this conversation he was Catherine's fiance - who is also homeless) has a motel room but it is in New Orleans East. He works at the SuperDome. He didn't even have bus fair to get to his room. He was told that tokens were going to be available for those put in rooms farther from the city. Payday is tomorrow. He told me whilst grateful for the room, it is farther from his work and everything in his pay is alloted out with very little "discretionary" spending money left. He also has no idea how long he is going to be there so he doesn't know how to budget out for bus fares, food, (he was eating for free at the shelters) or for how long.

"They have a limit (on tolerance of the homeless) which is tomorrow. They are scrambling to place us anywhere. Whether you are in housing or not - you gotta get outta here (Friday December 21, 2007)

Once this is over (the big push of help) you're on your own." "The police division were helping us out of kindness by letting us stay here."

"Until they come up with a feasible solution with housing they should keep {public housing} open.

Herbert told me that he has a strong suspicion that "any public place {in the future} is gonna be off limits - 'strictly trespassing' for the homeless."

"After Christmas if you don't have a case worker (with Unity for the Homeless) - then how can a "case worker help you get off of the streets?" Herbert works in the SuperDome doing floor work and machinery work. He says his job is coming along, he just doesn't earn enough to pay his bills. "I'm a working man, I'm not the type to sit around and say gimme - gimme. I can't afford to pay the rent and the utilities, I can't find affordable housing."

Jay, the man whose is making his bed in the following pictures, told me" This is my last day makin my bed. I don't know what I am gonna do. This is the last time, makin my bed.

(I was photograghing how neat Jay leaves his "space" before he got back from work today. Notice the placement of his sneakers." I have observed often how many of the men who are working who stay here are neat in this way.)

"Look at this trash," Jay with is trash picker-upper:

"You don't have to be nasty and homeless, you can be neat and homeless."

I (Jay) signed up with Unity (for the Homeless) about 5 times, they came to my bed 2x - they have my name. Then they say they can't help me because they "ain't got my name". I went to the church to sign up there and also signed up when they were here.

"This is my house here. I am getting evicted tomorrow". "Things are so hard for me I can't even afford underwear. I walk to work at the Convention Center every day, the chafing was so bad yesterday I found myself crying from the pain as I walked." "It is hard to work without a place to rest."

"The shelters are not designed for people who go to work - you have to be out of them by 5-6 a.m. and then you can't get back in until after 4:30."

"This building (state building) became a number one priority when the homeless came around. Not the hospitals and schools. First they fixed the SuperDome - not the hospitals and schools."
They housed the military across the streets but they don't have the money to house the homeless."

Jay tells me, "I am going to stay under the covers today and stay warm." (We had heavy rains today).

* * * *

In another conversation with a homeless man who was standing with Herbert and I, he told me "I have a job, I can't wait around for charity all day. They (Unity and charities), come during the day."

* * * *

When I spoke with Don he told me his former profession was as a chemist. I'm 5o now and I can't find a steady job He shared his thoughts on the demolishing of Public Housing. "It would take a week or two to train men in asbestos abatement, then certify them. Then in 6 months to 2 years, people won't have to be in tents." "Asbestos is rampant in New Orleans, these people would be trained for the future. Instead, they are lockin people up to get them off the streets. I am vulnerable out here - I gotta work I send money to my wife for my kids."

About the group of men who live over here. And this is not "trash" - this is their belongings. to the left in this picture is a man who I did not photograph, who was the one left behind to watch every one's belongings. The men who live(d) up here shared things. I saw it time and time again. And each time I was toched by the sense of community they had created forf themselves. There is something so profound in watching the "sharing" that occurs between those who have so little - I was deeply touched at how people watched out for each other here and "shared". They shared money they had collected to get food, to get beer. They shared cigarettes. They share clothes. They "s-h-a-r-e". As I was leaving one of them ran around the "hill" to tell the rest of the men there, that Unity for the Homeless was gonna come over and take some people to hotel rooms and get ready."

Their hope that they would be one of them was contagious.

For those who don't get a motel room stay or signed up for housing, and there are plenty* - - I know where to find them, many have told me where they will go if they don't get help with Unity, I won't be publishing where they are or pictures of them anymore. I have learned that publicity for them can be good and bad. If something positive comes out of it to help them stand up - it's good publicity. But after December 21 with this big push to make brand New Orlean$ all sparkly and wonderful for the Sugar bowl and other upcoming events - being homeless is going to be risky and for some - illegal.

*Unity for the Homeless estimates there are 12 thousand homeless post-Katrina.

No comments: