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New Orleans clears homeless encampment under Pontchartrain Expressway

Residents of a homeless encampment clean up their belongings after the city issued an order to vacate an area along Calliope St. New Orleans has stepped up encampment sweeps as part of a broader effort to get unhoused people off the street.
Matt Bloom
Residents of a homeless encampment clean up their belongings after the city issued an order to vacate an area along Calliope St. New Orleans has stepped up encampment sweeps as part of a broader effort to get unhoused people off the street.

City workers cleared a homeless encampment along Calliope Street in New Orleans’ warehouse district on Thursday morning, marking the fourth sweep in the past few months connected to a broader city plan to house homeless individuals.

The encampment underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway between Carondelet and Baronne streets had become populated with dozens of tents in recent months. Earlier this week, the city posted signs warning that personal property had to be removed by Thursday.

Police issued verbal warnings ahead of the action, according to residents. On Thursday, transportation department workers began power washing sidewalks and installing barricades and signage stating, “NO ENCAMPING.”

At least 40 people were living in the area and were transported to supportive housing, according to a caseworker for UNITY, the city’s largest non-profit homeless services provider, who assisted with the cleanup. Some residents woke up early Thursday to their tents being cut and poles being broken by police, said the worker, who didn't share their name because they weren’t authorized to speak with a reporter. UNITY did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.

A sign posted by city workers states "NO ENCAMPING" along Calliope St. in New Orleans.
Matt Bloom
A sign posted by city workers states "NO ENCAMPING" along Calliope St. in New Orleans.

Other residents simply gathered up their belongings and moved out of the area by foot. Byron Thompson had set up his tent in the encampment while he searched for work, and said he refused to go to a shelter.

“I'm scared of the shelter,” Thompson said. “They putting a lot of druggies in the shelter. I don't want a shelter. I want a home. I don't want to live on the streets no more.”

The city’s unhoused population has risen in recent years to roughly 1,500 people, mostly due to rising housing costs, according to the latest census conducted by UNITY. City leaders, including Mayor LaToya Cantrell, have said that ending homelessness is a major priority ahead of next year’s Super Bowl.

Thursday’s clean up comes on the heels of at least three other city-led sweeps in recent months. A $15 million federal grant is fueling the bulk of the work. In May, city council approved an additional $1.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to expand shelter capacity.

Nate Fields, the city’s director of homeless services, told city council Monday that 154 people have been transferred into supportive housing during sweeps in recent months, and 97% remain housed.

On top of Thursday’s sweep site, at least two more clean ups are planned. But those areas have not been made public for safety reasons, Fields said.

“We don’t want those individuals to be put in danger,” he said. “It makes the work harder when we have people interested in encampment sites.”

A caseworker for UNITY helps residents pack up their belongings and move out of an encampment along Calliope St. in New Orleans on June 13, 2024.
Matt Bloom
A caseworker for UNITY helps residents pack up their belongings and move out of an encampment along Calliope St. in New Orleans on June 13, 2024.

In a statement, Leatrice Dupré, Mayor Cantrell’s press secretary, said the city would share more information about encampment sweeps as it became available.

“The encampments and the locations will be addressed once we have finished closure per the Agreement with the City, Unity and Travelers Aid,” Dupré said.

A flier posted by the city in the area said residents could retrieve any personal property confiscated by police at 5034 Tchoupitoulas St. any weekend between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

By late Thursday morning, few signs of the Calliope St. encampment remained. Thompson, the former resident, walked by a newly constructed orange and white barricade where his tent used to be.

He hoped to find a job soon, he said. Then, he would look for a place to live.

“Where do they expect us homeless folks to go live at while we get on our feet?,” Thompson said. “I'm human too. We all human. We all got to make it. And people's not sticking together.”