And he didnt move into the White House. He moved into homelessness.
This Andrew Jackson was honorably discharged as an Army Private after Vietnam. He was awarded four medals in his service to our country.
He returned home after the horror of war.
Already stricken with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time in the service, Mr. Jackson later endured another set of horrors which worsened his condition – his parents drowned in their family home in New Orleans East as a result of the levee failures that followed Hurricane Katrina.
The UNITY Outreach Team found Mr. Jackson living in the destroyed home where his parents tragically died. He was 61 years old, suffering from severe disabilities, and had lived there for years with no lights, water or heat. During those years, he suffered a heart attack, but he still continued to live in subhuman conditions, suffering from further trauma to his already fragile emotional health.
Last year, just before Christmas, UNITY placed Mr. Jackson in his new apartment through a program for homeless people with disabilities. The services and supports he receives through the program help him remain stably and permanently housed.
Now that he is no longer homeless, Mr. Jackson is doing well. He reads his bible, meditates, and socializes with his neighbors. His health has improved, he has friends, and he has the opportunity to starte a life free from the trauma of homelessness, while he continues to heal from the many traumas he has already endured with the ongoing support of UNITY and case managers through UNITY’s partner agencies.
Mr. Jackson’s story is one of many tragedies and injustices that UNITY encounters on a daily basis. Throughout our city on any given night, more than 9,000 people are living with the pain of homelessness.
UNITY works every day to end homelessness for people like Mr. Jackson. Some are veterans. Some are elderly. Some are mothers with young children. All are vulnerable and in need of our help. Will you join us today in creating an end to homelessness for others like Mr. Jackson?
UNITY works to make sure that our neighbors like Mr. Jackson will never know the pain of homelessness again. Your gift today can help us serve many more people who are homeless right now. Click here to make a donation.View Post
Every day I pass the intersection of Opelousas and Newton. There’s a roof there with a hole carved out the top, shingles tossed to the side. It’s where someone was pulled from the depth of their Katrina hell sequestered in a dark attic waiting for their liberation as the flood waters rose to take their life. You can imagine how it started. Someone, ax in hand, made those first swings hacking their way through the cypress beams of a 150-year-old home. As that small hole enlarged and the rays of sun peeked through the dark, the individual escaped to find a refuge on a baking rooftop surrounded by a flooded city. The helicopters danced through the neighborhoods as thousands like this person clung to the hope of a dramatic rescue.
We see dozens of such roofs every day. I always wonder about that first strike of the ax, the decision or perhaps the ability to choose life over a watery and lonely death. I wonder about the roofs of abandoned buildings without such a hole. What happened in those buildings, or more importantly, what didn’t happen? It’s still very real to those of us in New Orleans. Some of us know that story from experience, some from a friend or family member. We have neighbors who are still in Katrina-induced exile six years after the storm.
Millions of Americans saw the rescues, watched the drama unfold. But I know that roof isn’t real to the rest of America. Opelousas and Newton is a sound stage for the award-winning HBO series “Treme.” It’s a prop that sits in a parking lot waiting for a now infamous scene that, six years later, is still very real to us. In New Orleans we don’t need a re-creation of that awful history. It’s part of our identity. It’s part of everyday and it’s who we are.View Post
By Jesse Hardman / New Orleans Monday, June 06, 2011
“Don’t throw up now,” Mike King says as he begins to remove his right foot from a plastic bag. What “started off with a little spot,” King says, is now a full-blown infection that has caused his foot to grow to twice its normal size. Most of his heel bone is visible, emerging out of his skin. The stench of rotting flesh is overwhelming. “That’s bone I’m walking on. I’m walking on nothing but bone, you know. Every time I put my foot down, it hurts.”
A New Orleans native, King, 57, is squatting in what’s left of a building he has called home for 20 years, long before the post-Katrina floods gutted the shotgun structure. He moved back in after a stint at the Superdome, where he stayed after the storm. His home is one of New Orleans’ estimated 43,000 abandoned buildings — the worst such statistic of any U.S. city other than Detroit. A drive through the Big Easy will show many of these properties are hardly vacant.
Mike Miller, who does outreach work with the city’s homeless, spends his days, and more importantly his nights, looking for “the sickest of the sick” — people like King who are hanging on by a thread. Miller, who works for a local nonprofit called UNITY, says that when he’s out on his rounds, in addition to humans, he sees “fleas, lice, mice, rats, raccoons, possums and various other swamp creatures that most cities don’t have to think about.”
He points to a hornet’s nest forming in a light fixture at one “squat,” as he calls abandoned but inhabited buildings. The woman he’s gone to visit, who has just fled out the back, is in terrible shape. “This lady has a partial amputation of her finger. Got bit by a mouse.” But a missing finger is the least of the 39-year-old’s problems. She’s HIV-positive, a paranoid schizophrenic and down to about 90 lb. In the corner of the front room is a bedroll — basically the springs of an old mattress, covered with a few jackets. The area of the floor on which she sleeps is a mess of plastic-foam containers, food wrappers, empty bottles, Doritos and feces.
As he cruises around New Orleans in a blue minivan, Miller pieces together the histories of his “clients,” as he calls the locals he is trying to help, by way of what he sees: “the freshness of the food, dates on bottles, dates on newspapers, the active nature of a bedroll. By now I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of bedrolls that are used every night.”
Miller, 31, is an imposing northerner, built big like his hometown of Chicago. But his welcoming “Y’all” and wide grin are all New Orleans. He says “we” and “us locals” when referring to his adopted town, a place that no doubt needs him after what the 2010 Census shows is a drop of more than 140,000 residents in the past decade.
And he makes no bones about his mission. He doesn’t want to “hand out sandwiches” but to get people into housing, because “it’s hard to get a job if you don’t have an address. It’s hard to get a job if you don’t have a place to get a shower. It’s hard to get out and hit the pavement if you haven’t eaten.”
There are success stories, says Miller. He shows off one house, boarded up with a big yellow “Scheduled for demolition” sign on the front. Two weeks before, on one of his night searches, he found a husband and wife huddled in the corner. “We’ve been waiting for you,” they told Miller when they realized he was with UNITY. With a little assistance, they moved across the street from their old squat into a rental home.
Despite long hours, gruesome sights and tragic stories, Miller says he has the best job in the world. Pointing to his client King, Miller says he has the best job because New Orleans has the best people. “It’s an intangible desire to live,” Miller says. “You’ll see a guy about to get his leg cut off and he’ll bull—- with you about crawfish.”
As Miller speaks, King is pouring himself some Miles’ dry gin into a plastic cup, forgetting all about the foot that he says might come off as soon as that afternoon. King says what he really wants, in addition to some better housing, is some electricity so he can watch a little TV. “A small generator, not no big ol’ generator. Just a little juice, a little juice, and I’m satisfied. At least for a few weeks. Then I’m gonna need a woman.”
Published: Thursday, June 02, 2011, 9:45 PM
By Katy Reckdahl, The Times-Picayune
The homeless population in Orleans and Jefferson parishes stands at 9,200, 70 percent higher than before Hurricane Katrina, with the largest share of people living in abandoned buildings, according to counts and estimates released Thursday by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a collaborative of 63 social service agencies.
Despite the city’s modest size, New Orleans’ homeless population is one of the highest in the nation in sheer numbers, said UNITY director Martha Kegel, who also announced four new ways that UNITY will combat the problem.
There is some good news. Over the past two years, the numbers of local homeless decreased by 10 percent, Kegel said.
The new data also show an even greater reduction — 23 percent — in the number of people living in the most precarious situations: on streets and in abandoned buildings, emergency shelters or transitional housing.
The decrease is due partly to more affordable apartments, which “create more couches for people to sleep on,” Kegel said. But it’s also due to efforts of UNITY street-outreach teams that comb the city’s streets and abandoned buildings, where squatters with some of the most grave disabilities sleep in bedrolls.
UNITY’s agencies then help the most ill vagrants document conditions and place them on a registry to be housed, ranked by the likelihood that they will die on the streets if not housed.
Most homeless people are simply extremely poor and resolve their own homelessness without much outside help.
But for the severely disabled, it’s more complicated.
Over the past two years, UNITY has provided permanent housing to 1,989 disabled homeless people, mostly through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that provides “permanent supportive housing,” with vouchers to pay rent and caseworkers.
UNITY hopes to house a total of 2,500 homeless people by 2013, said Kegel, who announced two HUD grants. A $1.08 million grant will house 33 more disabled people, while a $149,000 grant will improve intake and data collection at local shelters.
UNITY is also developing nonprofit-owned buildings that will provide 200 apartments for disabled homeless and 200 apartments for low-wage workers.
Since the storm, UNITY outreach workers have been shocked at the numbers of frail homeless people who had lived with family caretakers until Katrina.
Some are elderly. While the city’s homeless population, like those nationwide, consists mostly of people between the ages of 45 and 61, the proportion of homeless elderly, 62 and over, in New Orleans is four times the national average.
The number of mentally retarded homeless has also risen significantly, Kegel said.
Last year, not long before Thanksgiving, UNITY street-outreach worker Brandi Gaines-Girard saw a pair of squatters — Dianna Alford, 65, and her son James Dunn, 42 — living underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway near the New Orleans Mission homeless shelter.
Dunn is severely mentally retarded, “with the mind of a 6-year-old,” as his mother often says. His mother, who is limited by developmental problems as well, said her parents died within five years of each other, when she was a teenager. She was employed once years ago, at the Charity Hospital cafeteria.
Alford’s narratives don’t always track and she answers questions literally. Asked how her family got to New Orleans from Detroit, where she was born, she said, “In my daddy’s station wagon, a Chevrolet.”
Like many disabled people, the pair have found it tough to make ends meet since Katrina pushed up rents. While a disability check is $674, the fair-market rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $850.
The pair now lives in a Central City building that houses UNITY clients. The two are inseparable, even indoors: one bedroom is empty; in the other Dunn’s twin mattress sits a few feet from his mother’s larger mattress.
For now, Dunn spends his time watching cartoons while Alford sits at the table. “I can’t watch much TV because I have cataracts in both eyes,” she said.
Katy Reckdahl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3396.
© 2011 NOLA.com. All rights reserved.View Post
By Cain Burdeau, Associated Press
Slipping on gloves, social workers Mike Miller and Katy Quigley head in.
“Homeless outreach! Anybody home?” Miller shouts as he climbs over a balcony and up a flight of stairs.
No one’s home. But the signs of life are disturbing: A slept-on mattress, bits of food, smells of urine and feces.
It’s creepy: The upstairs apartment hasn’t been touched since Hurricane Katrina. There’s paperwork, letters, clothing, medicine bottles, a child’s stuffed animal, a Star Wars X-Wing fighter plane on the carpeted stairs.
A business card they left on the fetid mattress during their last trip is gone. That’s a good sign.
They move on.
At an abandoned 100-year-old factory, they find a few squatters. The factory has become a spot for day laborers working for temp services, restaurants, construction crews. The wages and tips, plus side tricks like collecting aluminum cans, aren’t enough to get them into an apartment since rents skyrocketed after the storm.
Quigley pauses outside a room overlooking the factory floor. “On New Year’s Day a guy was hit by a cab and killed on Claiborne and Gravier on his way to his temp job,” she says. “He lived right here.”
In a former workers’ locker room, James Bragg, a 35-year-old out-of-work carny from Illinois, is buried under blankets with his girlfriend in the dark. His left eye doesn’t blink; it’s bruised and bloodshot from being hit with a pipe.
When the carnival season ended, he said, “We come down here with about $600.” But he was robbed on Bourbon Street, and after they ate through savings living out of a hotel before they came across the factory in a downpour of rain a few months ago.
“It’s better than sleeping on sidewalks,” he says.
An ex-convict from New Orleans lives in the next room. He’s arranged his living quarters like a prison cell — neat and tidy and cold. He’s lined up hand sanitizer, hair lotion, a broken mirror to shave in, water jugs, stacked clothes — one stack for boxer shorts. A hole in the floor looks onto the ground floor, and he uses it as an outhouse.
More than five years after Katrina, New Orleans is struggling to deal with about 43,000 blighted residential properties — in various states of neglect and collapse. The city has a larger percentage of blighted properties than any other U.S. city, about a quarter of its housing stock.
And in these wastelands, an estimated 3,000 homeless find refuge every night. They are wretched people suffering from mental illness, disability or substance abuse, or simply down-on-their-luck working poor. They can be found sleeping in schools, rundown shotgun-style houses, warehouses, sprawling factories and even funeral homes and hospitals.
Any vacant place works.
UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a collaboration of 63 homeless agencies, has been running sweeps across the city every week for more than two years looking for “the sickest of sick puppies,” as Miller puts it.
“Worked someone out of there, someone out of there,” Miller says, pointing as he drives through Mid-City. “It is every neighborhood in New Orleans: People living in abandoned buildings. There’s not one neighborhood where we haven’t pulled someone out.”
Miller, a 31-year-old part-time bartender and street-smart transplant from Illinois, and Quigley, a 52-year-old mother who’s worked much of her life with the poor and homeless with HIV and AIDS, sit in the front van, smoking cigarettes. They scan the streets for homeless and swap stories about people sleeping under piers on the Mississippi River or in the shadow of the cathedral in Jackson Square. One guy fell off a 10-foot scaffolding. Another refuses offers for housing after 20 years on the streets. There was a man they found in a house who’d been drinking antifreeze for four days in an attempt to kill himself.
“Now’s he’s with Volunteers of America. It’s kind of cool. An older guy,” Miller says.
“But we haven’t found anyone dead … which is good!”
Decades of poverty, the trauma of Katrina, the economic downturn and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are a toxic socio-economic cocktail that has made the reality of dire homelessness stubbornly vivid here. With about 11,000 homeless, New Orleans has the nation’s highest number per capita, according to UNITY.
New Orleans, enjoying three solid years of growth and excited by rebuilding successes, was stunned back into its homeless crisis just after Christmas. On Dec. 28, 2010, eight squatters — a collection of train hoppers and travelers — died inside an abandoned rail-yard warehouse, asphyxiated by carbon monoxide fumes and burned when a fire they’d built to warm themselves went out of control.
“The homelessness here does seem very Third World, and that shouldn’t be happening in America in 2011,” said Martha J. Kegel, the executive director of UNITY. “I am just horrified by the magnitude of the problem.”
In the wake of Katrina, New Orleans became a laboratory for many things — urban planning, eco-friendly building, school reforms, community-driven politics, volunteerism, adaptation to a world facing global climate change.
But social workers and homeless advocates say an opportunity was missed to make New Orleans a laboratory for ending homelessness in an American city. Overnight, a majority were left homeless by Katrina, which struck on Aug. 29, 2005.
It took Congress until the summer of 2008 to give the New Orleans metro area enough money — funneled through a Department of Housing and Urban Development voucher program — to house 875 of the most vulnerable people living on the streets.
By then, tent cities had sprung up in front of City Hall and along Canal Boulevard, the city’s main thoroughfare.
“There was a lot of hope at the beginning (after Katrina) that since everyone had left the city, that we could prevent the recurrence of homelessness at all as people came back,” said Nan Roman, the head of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Not enough was done, she said — “not what we had hoped, something like a game changer. That didn’t happen.”
Meanwhile, rebuilding programs for renters have languished, as has the construction of cheaper housing. In addition, mental health and health care services remain crippled.
“The magnitude of the problem calls for a muscular response, but that hasn’t really happened,” Kegel said.
“It’s a shame that we’re still having to do search and rescue for homeless in abandoned buildings five and a half years after the hurricane.”
And the homeless numbers are creeping back up due to the economic downturn and oil spill.
“There are a number of first-time homeless people out on the streets now, probably the most we’ve seen since Katrina,” said Stacy Horn Koch, an advocate hired last month by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to tackle homelessness.
The city gets about $15 million a year from HUD to help the homeless, and $7 million for homeless programs was made available through economic stimulus funding.
But some targeted funds are drying up. More than 500 of the 875 special HUD permanent housing vouchers have been used. Once they’re gone, a door will close on housing the most desperate.
“It’s harder and harder to get funds for the long-term recovery,” Kegel said.
The UNITY van pulls up to a boarded-up hotel where they’d discovered a couple living on a previous outing.
Kenneth J. Wilson, a sheetrock painter whose employment surged after Katrina before petering out, and Venus Green, an out-of-work nursing assistant, greet the social workers with weak smiles. They’ve been at the hotel for about a year, and she’s now pregnant.
“Before the storm, I was working, I had my own place. I was doing good,” Green, 32, says. “After the storm, I gave up.”
The UNITY team spends about a half hour with the couple filling out paperwork to help them get into housing. Quigley brings them some extra sleeping bags. The small room has no heat. Still, it kind of feels like home with photos of family next to the queen bed, an Oriental rug, an electric cooker and New Orleans Saints memorabilia hanging from a light fixture.
Green feels that a real home will set things straight. “Once I get a place to stay, it will be easier for me to get a job and stuff,” she says. “I can’t put this down for no address.”
The van moves on.
In the 8th Ward, the van parks behind the abandoned Oretha Castle Haley elementary school, named for a civil rights leader.
“Hello! Hello! Homeless outreach! UNITY! Anybody home?”
Their voices echo in pitch black stairwells, corridors and class rooms. Debris covers every floor. Chalk boards are scrawled with graffiti. The school is used by travelers like the ones killed in the warehouse fire. They’re gone now, leaving behind malt liquor cans and tobacco pouches. In a classroom, a newspaper article about the deadly warehouse fire hangs on the wall.
During the day, the UNITY crew had found a drug cooker and syringes, and also evidence of a woman living with a dog in an office. But she’s not around.
The van moves on.
They hope for better luck with a young woman they’ve been told is living in a squat next to the train tracks where the eight travelers were killed. Apparently, she was part of the group.
They park near a memorial to the fire victims. Occasionally, trains whistle.
Down the tracks, their flashlights pick out someone sleeping on the ground in an abandoned warehouse. He’s got a dog with him.
Victor Fitzsimmons is 22, from Wisconsin, and has been hopping freight cars for the past year and a half. He says he was in the Marine Corps in Iraq.
He shivers at the thought of the warehouse fire and the victims, whom he knew. “That right there,” he says, pointing, “is the grill they took inside.”
The UNITY searchers move on.
In a supermarket parking lot, they find Charles Arceneaux Jr., a 53-year-old diabetic living in a Grand Marquis car. After Katrina, his leg got infected and was amputated. The only good thing about the cold is that he doesn’t have to worry about his insulin spoiling.
“I am hoping that by the time things get really, really warm, I will be situated,” he says.
More paperwork: He’s got a good shot at housing.
The van heads to an abandoned house near St. Bernard Avenue where a pastor has told them about a man living in a Katrina-wrecked house.
It’s past midnight when they find it: Broken windows, roof in tatters, missing doors, a deadness.
A skinny, ethereal man appears out of the gloom, and beckons them to his side of the house. A fetid stench overwhelms the social workers when he opens his door. Trash covers the floors.
The 43-year-old man tells them he suffers from epilepsy and sickle-cell disease. Before the storm, he lived with an uncle in the St. Bernard public housing project, but that was razed. He says his family “is out of town right now, ever since the hurricane.”
A friend owns the house and has let him stay in it for the past two years.
Back in the van, Quigley says, “This is exactly what we’re after.” With no income, no food stamps, and no one even aware that he’s homeless, “he needs case management badly to help him survive.”
The van moves on to an abandoned house, filled with gut-wrenching filth, that they’d visited earlier.
Miller tries the door, but it’s locked from the inside. He peers through a broken window and sees a shape on the floor.
“This is Mike from UNITY.”
“I heard ya. Go away!” a man groans back, wasted.
“You want me to come back tomorrow. What time?”
“In the afternoon, man, leave me alone.”
“Who’m I asking for? Can I leave a card? OK? Who’m I leaving a card for?” Silence. “OK, my man, I’m going to put it in the door for ya. You alright for now?”
The man doesn’t answer.
For tonight, the search and rescue comes to an end.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.View Post
August 24, 2010
The Abandoned Buildings Outreach Team of UNITY of Greater New Orleans has released a detailed report of the Team’s findings and recommendations from 18 months of combing the city’s abandoned buildings in search of elderly and disabled survivors of Hurricane Katrina, “Search and Rescue Five Years Later: Saving People Still Trapped in Katrina’s Ruins.”
Thus far, the team has found 154 people, nearly all disabled Katrina victims, living in abandoned buildings without electricity or running water — most with unrepaired flood damage, often with gaping holes in the walls and roofs. New Orleans presently has over 55,000 abandoned commercial and residential buildings – the highest rate of abandoned buildings in the nation, and searches of abandoned buildings on random samples of census blocks indicates at least 3,000 people are living in these conditions.View Post
On Tuesday, December 15th, UNITY of Greater New Orleans was named as one of the 42 nonprofit organizations in the Greater New Orleans area who received IMPACT 2010 grants. Over three quarters of a million dollars in grants were awarded in the following categories: Arts & Culture; Civic Engagement; Education; Health; Human & Social Services; and Youth Development.
Dr. Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans foundation stated, “IMPACT 2010 allows us to identify and invest in the best nonprofit organizations in the region. These nonprofit leaders are working tirelessly to make this a thriving community for all. Their contributions add tremendously to the health and vibrancy of our region.”
UNITY is truly thankful for the incredible support from the Greater New Orleans Foundation. For more information on the IMPACT program, see the GNOF website.View Post
In the spirit of the season, I count among my blessings the men, women and children whom the entire UNITY team and the Continuum of Care partners have assisted this year. Here are a few of my recent favorite blessings:
“Wait, wait! Stop please!” she cried. We were out in the UNITY van and on our way to give a daytime look at an abandoned building we would be entering later that night to try to engage the person living there and see if we could get him into housing.
It is not unusual to be flagged down in certain neighborhoods. Usually it is a person wanting to find out- for themselves and increasingly for others – how to gain access to housing or homeless prevention services. That was what we thought would be this woman’s query.
However, this time as we rolled down the window the persistent woman breathlessly exclaimed: “I need to tell y’all thank you. Thank you. Thank you! I am now in a beautiful apartment. That man who was beating me is no longer in my life and I have 4 months clean! It never would have happened without your help! So may the good Lord bless you. Oh and thank you!”
The windows of the car were foggy. Very foggy. It was one of the first cold nights this year. Mike and I looked inside and there she was sleeping with an old pair of pliers in her hand for protection. Gently knocking at the car window we woke her up. We had heard that there were at least three children in the car with her – the youngest 9 months – and we didn’t want to wake them up as well. She groggily opened the window and quietly greeted us.
The young mother suffers from a debilitating disease, and her mother – the sleeping babies’ grandmother – works nights, otherwise she would be in the car with them. We let her know that we would call the UNITY workers who assisted homeless families and that she should expect to be contacted first thing in the morning to start receiving assistance. The family – including the grandmother – is now housed and creating a comfortable home for the holidays.
We know odors. In fact, we sometimes feel – in our efforts to house the most vulnerable- that if someone is too clean and doesn’t smell bad that they might not be our client. This man was definitely our client. He was smelly. Stinky- smelly. Even a few hours after putting on clean clothes raided from my husband’s closet, he was smelly again. Sleeping every night on the floor of an abandoned car wash, he had no option of getting clean.
He was so dirty and disheveled that I was off by almost twenty years with my guestimate of his age. He also had a chronic and debilitating illness that was untreated except for the numerous police- and ambulance-escorted visits to area Emergency Rooms. In fact, an ER doctor who occasionally rides on our night rounds with us instantaneously remembered him when he saw him one evening.
Housed by our Rebuilding Communities program and case managed by one of our partner agencies, the word on the street is that he is now squeaky, Board of Health- type clean, loving his apartment, receiving ongoing primary medical care, and even has a nice girlfriend!
Its 1a.m. on a recent Freeze Night and we were hurriedly trying to find as many people sleeping on New Orleans’s streets and getting them to one of the shelters so that they did not die of exposure to the elements. We had already picked up two men in the Central Business District and were heading to the shelter when we saw a man picking through the trash for aluminum cans. We stopped and, surprisingly, were greeted with a warm, familiar hello! Because of the physical changes, the recognition was not instantaneous on our part, but it soon dawned on us that this was dear Mr. A who had lived in an abandoned church for years before being housed through UNITYs Sunrise Program.
He shared with us, and our passengers, that he was just out picking up some cans for some extra cash and he was loving the fact that after he finished collecting his cans he was returning to his warm comfy apartment! His smile was radiant! We told him that we were looking for people sleeping outside and trying to get them into shelter this cold night. Mr. A directed us to a gentleman that he saw earlier that evening and, following his directions, we found the man who gladly accepted a ride to the shelter!
As I am typing this I think, “Oh, I should share about John, or James or Cynthia or Alex or Louis, or Samantha, or Teddy or…” and the list of blessing stories goes on and on and on. So many contribute to the blessing of so many. It is for ALL of these blessings that I am truly grateful.View Post
September 1, 2010
New Orleans is rebounding well from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and could conceivably end up on a stronger economic footing than before the storm — if the city redevelops in the right way. For that to happen, federal, state and local authorities must step up the effort to restore flood-damaged neighborhoods, some of which are heavily blighted and still have less than half their prestorm populations.
For starters, the state and federal government need to find more effective ways of working with community-based, nonprofit programs that have a good record of helping cash-strapped property owners restore their homes. (The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State of Louisiana are collaborating on a pilot program, but more needs to be done.)
Congress, which has failed the city in any number of ways, must quickly extend the life of a crucial tax credit for corporations that invest in desperately needed affordable housing projects. Without that fix, the region will likely lose financing for thousands of apartments, many of them earmarked for the most vulnerable populations, including the elderly and the disabled.
A new report prepared by the Brookings Institution and the nonpartisan Greater New Orleans Community Data Center contains a great deal of good news.
Entrepreneurs are starting new businesses in significantly higher numbers than before the storm. Wages and median household incomes have risen compared with a decade ago. Arts and cultural organizations appear to be thriving. Thanks to reform-minded school leadership, the public school system has improved and become a magnet for teacher talent.
A new system of more than 90 community centers has given the city’s poor residents better access to mental health services and preventive medical care. And the city now boasts a population that is more engaged civically — and more deeply involved in matters of governance — than ever.
But the region faces huge challenges. The dearth of affordable housing casts a long shadow on the city’s future. At the moment, nearly 60 percent of city renters spend more than 35 percent of their incomes on housing. Nationally, about 40 percent of renters spend that much. These people skimp on nutrition and medical care, undermining the well-being of children, and are chronically at risk of homelessness. They move often — one step ahead of eviction — which leads to higher employee turnover, higher training costs and lower productivity. And without more affordable housing, some areas of the city could remain permanently vacant.
To stabilize its neighborhoods — and attract a larger middle-class population — government officials must solve the problem of blight. With 55,000 abandoned addresses, New Orleans is probably the most blighted city in the country, and few people want to live among darkened, abandoned buildings. The obvious first step is to expand investment in local nonprofits that solidify partly refurbished neighborhoods by renovating the remaining abandoned homes on a given block.
Homelessness also is a nagging problem. According to a distressing analysis by Unity of Greater New Orleans, a social service consortium, the dangerous abandoned buildings are now home to somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 people — most of whom suffer from mental illnesses. More must be done to get these people stabilized and into supportive housing.View Post
Published: Wednesday, September 01, 2010, 6:03 PM
Contributing Op-Ed columnist
In the very near future, the New Orleans City Council will be asked to consider the construction of a very large parish prison. I believe that everyone involved in this discussion is acting in good faith and truly seeks a safer New Orleans for all its citizens.
But, to suggest that this can be accomplished by building an oversized, expensive new prison flies in the face of history, ignores the lessons taught by cities that truly seem to be making progress against crime and burdens the taxpayers in the city of New Orleans with enormous costs.
This may not be the best way to become a safer city.
A bigger parish jail may even provide an unintended, perverse incentive to fill the jail whether the accused needs to be incarcerated or not. It is a nightmare version of “if we build it, they will come.”
Baptist Community Ministries has studied public safety issues in New Orleans in great depth. We have spent more than $10.5 million over several recent years to create a safer community. Most of our spending has gone to local nonprofit organizations dedicated to a more functional criminal justice system. Drawing from our work in the field, we find very little evidence that our current incarceration practices really make us safer.
For example, we arrest more of our fellow citizens per capita than any other city in America, but in spite of our best intentions and hard work, New Orleans remains near the top of U.S. cities in terms of murder and violent crime. Our arrest and detention rate is a startling 300 percent higher than the national average. It is clear that we cannot arrest our way to safety.
Like most law-abiding citizens, I strongly believe that dangerous, violent criminals should be in jail. But, more than half of the people arrested in Orleans Parish are in jail for nonviolent, minor offenses. If we build a new jail designed to hold the average prisoner population for a city of our size, it will contain fewer than 1,000 beds. This is much smaller than the proposed new jail, which is designed to house nearly 6,000 inmates.
Cost is another consideration. Most of the initial capital outlay for the new jail will come from federal sources. The new construction will cost local citizens relatively little at first. Unfortunately, after the jail is finished the ongoing costs to operate it are likely to fall squarely on local taxpayers.
This debate is also about equity and fairness, ideals that are far more important than money. Under our current system, which supports a city jail larger than we need, our detention system is paid millions of dollars each year to hold state prisoners, and the city pays even more to warehouse the mentally ill. If we build it, will we then work harder to fill it when less expensive and more effective alternatives to incarceration are available?
We should consider building a significantly smaller jail and invest our savings in good public safety practices that have been proven effective across the country.
As an example, alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs produce very positive returns to society at a much lower cost than incarceration. Another good example is right next door. The Jefferson Parish jail has a maximum capacity of 1,262 inmates, and it presently houses only 937 people. This self-restraint is particularly impressive when Jefferson Parish has almost 100,000 more citizens than New Orleans.
A few years back, the citizens of Jefferson Parish avoided building a massive new jail and instead chose to add 400 new beds to their existing facility. Parish leaders redirected resources in support of more effective practices. Police officers in Jefferson Parish now use “arrest by summons” instead of immediate detention and they use physical detention only for felonies and certain types of serious, misdemeanors.
The entire system collaborates to ensure that the jail is used only for people who must be detained. Low-level defendants are most often released while awaiting trial. This approach is consistent with the policies encouraged by the Vera Institute, Metropolitan Crime Commission, New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, Department of Justice, and the New Orleans Crime Coalition.
We have an opportunity to rebuild wisely and save the huge financial and social costs of unnecessary incarceration. We can take a new approach by diverting people who don’t need to be incarcerated into much less expensive, more effective programs. We simply do not have the money to waste on our outmoded overemphasis on arrests and detention. This is “old hat” and we are in a new day!
Building a bigger jail is an irresponsible way to spend public money. If we really want to create a safer, fairer community, we need a smaller jail for violent criminals and a bigger investment in crime-fighting approaches that work for everyone.
Byron Harrell is president of Baptist Community Ministries. BCM is a private foundation that provides financial support to nonprofit organizations in the five-parish greater New Orleans region. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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