[Hpn] New Orleans assistance group finds shelter, but some trickle back to streets

William C. Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Fri, 21 Dec 2007 21:39:48 -0500


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http://www.katc.com:80/Global/story.asp?S=3D7532406

New Orleans assistance group finds shelter, but some trickle back to =
streets


NEW ORLEANS -- Ten days ago, the 45-year-old man from Jackson, Miss., =
was one of hundreds who shuffled through the homeless camp that stained =
the mayor's doorstep. On Friday, he was Ricky Kees, guest in Room 402 of =
a local hotel, holding a steady job and wearing a fresh change of =
clothes.=20


Kees was among the 249 people the group UNITY of New Orleans placed in =
rooms over the last month to meet Friday's deadline to fold a homeless =
encampment in front of New Orleans City Hall. The National Alliance to =
End Homelessness in Washington, D.C., said the exodus from Duncan Plaza =
was the first time so many homeless people had been moved from one place =
without a police action.=20

Kees said it was the first time he recognized himself in months.=20

"It's a great big difference," he said, adding that the estimated 30 =
people who moved from the encampment back to the street could learn from =
his example.=20

"They have to accept the help of others and make an attempt to help =
themselves."=20

By Friday evening, half of the plaza was ringed by a chain-link fence to =
prepare for the planned demolition of adjacent state office buildings. =
City sanitation crews bagged and carted off piles of debris left behind =
in a compound that was once considered a safe-haven for the homeless, =
but lately became filled with trash, danger and despair.=20

Troy Biggins, 46, was among those who received no help. As he pulled =
dirty clothing out of tent that looked ready to collapse under its own =
weight, he said he lost the identification card needed to qualify for =
assistance and lately had been having stomach cramps and began drinking =
to cope with life in the plaza.=20

"I'm just trying to figure out how I don't end up under the bridge," he =
said, referring to a nearby stretch of freeway overpass where some of =
the 30 Duncan Plaza refugees took shelter. That homeless colony has been =
steadily growing with the demise of the plaza and had about 120 people =
living there on Friday, many in tents.=20

The plaza became a symbol for what some have called a homeless epidemic =
since Hurricane Katrina. The city has seen its homeless population =
double to 12,000 since the storm, according to UNITY.=20

Martha Kegel, executive president of the group, said if police had swept =
the homeless from Duncan Plaza, the result could have been a standoff =
like the one across the street at City Hall a day earlier. On Thursday, =
protesters clashed with police over the city council's unanimous =
decision to raze four of the city's public housing projects.=20

Instead, she said, hotel owners who agreed to house the homeless, =
government bodies who provided funds, and outreach workers who urged =
mentally ill and troubled people to accept the help, averted any =
violence.=20

"Even though many cities across America have serious homelessness =
problems, no other city in America has moved this many people out of =
street homelessness, into housing, in so short a period of time," Kegel =
said during a news conference at the plaza.=20

Still, Kegel said homelessness is so challenging in New Orleans that the =
group had to make tough choices about who would receive transitional =
hotel rooms and later low-rent apartments. Most were people who had been =
assigned UNITY case workers, sometimes even before they landed in the =
plaza.=20

"We operated with a closed list," Kegel said, explaining that giving =
help to all takers could have caused many more to come to the plaza and =
seek it.=20

Kegel said the group would try to convince those who were not helped to =
accept a shelter bed and get in the UNITY system, though beds were =
dramatically reduced by Katrina and many of the homeless find them no =
better than the street.=20

Kegel allowed Melvin Jones Jr., who was also left with no hotel room =
Friday, to speak at the news conference.=20

"When are you all going to get the rest of these people out here =
hotels," he shouted into news microphones. "I'm glad for everyone who =
got help, but what about me?"
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<DIV><STRONG><FONT face=3DVerdana><A=20
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<DIV><STRONG><FONT face=3DVerdana></FONT></STRONG>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV><STRONG><FONT face=3DVerdana>New Orleans assistance group finds =
shelter, but=20
some trickle back to streets<BR clear=3Dall></DIV></FONT></STRONG>
<DIV><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV><FONT =
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<P><!-- -->NEW ORLEANS -- Ten days ago, the 45-year-old man from =
Jackson, Miss.,=20
was one of hundreds who shuffled through the homeless camp that stained =
the=20
mayor's doorstep. On Friday, he was Ricky Kees, guest in Room 402 of a =
local=20
hotel, holding a steady job and wearing a fresh change of clothes.=20
<P></P>
<DIV>Kees was among the 249 people the group UNITY of New Orleans placed =
in=20
rooms over the last month to meet Friday's deadline to fold a homeless=20
encampment in front of New Orleans City Hall. The National Alliance to =
End=20
Homelessness in Washington, D.C., said the exodus from Duncan Plaza was =
the=20
first time so many homeless people had been moved from one place without =
a=20
police action. </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>Kees said it was the first time he recognized himself in months. =
</DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>"It's a great big difference," he said, adding that the estimated =
30 people=20
who moved from the encampment back to the street could learn from his =
example.=20
</DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>"They have to accept the help of others and make an attempt to help =

themselves." </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>By Friday evening, half of the plaza was ringed by a chain-link =
fence to=20
prepare for the planned demolition of adjacent state office buildings. =
City=20
sanitation crews bagged and carted off piles of debris left behind in a =
compound=20
that was once considered a safe-haven for the homeless, but lately =
became filled=20
with trash, danger and despair. </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>Troy Biggins, 46, was among those who received no help. As he =
pulled dirty=20
clothing out of tent that looked ready to collapse under its own weight, =
he said=20
he lost the identification card needed to qualify for assistance and =
lately had=20
been having stomach cramps and began drinking to cope with life in the =
plaza.=20
</DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>"I'm just trying to figure out how I don't end up under the =
bridge," he=20
said, referring to a nearby stretch of freeway overpass where some of =
the 30=20
Duncan Plaza refugees took shelter. That homeless colony has been =
steadily=20
growing with the demise of the plaza and had about 120 people living =
there on=20
Friday, many in tents. </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>The plaza became a symbol for what some have called a homeless =
epidemic=20
since Hurricane Katrina. The city has seen its homeless population =
double to=20
12,000 since the storm, according to UNITY. </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>Martha Kegel, executive president of the group, said if police had =
swept=20
the homeless from Duncan Plaza, the result could have been a standoff =
like the=20
one across the street at City Hall a day earlier. On Thursday, =
protesters=20
clashed with police over the city council's unanimous decision to raze =
four of=20
the city's public housing projects. </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>Instead, she said, hotel owners who agreed to house the homeless,=20
government bodies who provided funds, and outreach workers who urged =
mentally=20
ill and troubled people to accept the help, averted any violence. </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>"Even though many cities across America have serious homelessness =
problems,=20
no other city in America has moved this many people out of street =
homelessness,=20
into housing, in so short a period of time," Kegel said during a news =
conference=20
at the plaza. </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>Still, Kegel said homelessness is so challenging in New Orleans =
that the=20
group had to make tough choices about who would receive transitional =
hotel rooms=20
and later low-rent apartments. Most were people who had been assigned =
UNITY case=20
workers, sometimes even before they landed in the plaza. </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>"We operated with a closed list," Kegel said, explaining that =
giving help=20
to all takers could have caused many more to come to the plaza and seek =
it.=20
</DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>Kegel said the group would try to convince those who were not =
helped to=20
accept a shelter bed and get in the UNITY system, though beds were =
dramatically=20
reduced by Katrina and many of the homeless find them no better than the =
street.=20
</DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>Kegel allowed Melvin Jones Jr., who was also left with no hotel =
room=20
Friday, to speak at the news conference. </DIV>
<P></P>
<DIV>"When are you all going to get the rest of these people out here =
hotels,"=20
he shouted into news microphones. "I'm glad for everyone who got help, =
but what=20
about me?"</DIV></FONT></DIV></BODY></HTML>

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