"They said they'd arrest us if we stayed or tried to come back," said Michael Simmons, who was standing outside the New Orleans Mission on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.
The Mission took about 30 people from under the expressway today.
"We actually filled [all beds] this morning," said Aaron Wegmann, the Mission's director of operations.
The rest, he said, were transferred by the NOPD's homeless assistance unit to other shelters. Staff members from the Ozanam Inn and Unity GNO were on site to help coordinate the move. Wegmann — who said trash from expressway encampment created major sanitation problems in the neighborhood — was glad the people living there were directed to shelters. He said the city conducted a well-organized effort to prepare shelters prior to the sweep.
(More after the jump)
David Bottner, the Mission's executive director, said city has been working with shelters homeless service providers for several weeks in preparation for the move, though they weren't told exactly when it would happen until early this week. Wegmann said staff from the Ozanam Inn, Exodus House and Unity GNO met on Monday to plan for today. The city, he said had already, helped the Mission figure out how to increase its own capacity, which was formerly about 165 beds.
"They gave us some creative ways to space the beds," Bottner said, by removing barriers and installing bunk beds. The shelter's capacity, formerly about 165, has been increased to 252, he said. Bottner has been told that the city plans to install a fence under the expressway, work which has not yet started this morning.
Update: City Hall press release
Today, in keeping with Mayor Landrieu’s efforts to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness in New Orleans, the City announced that it has sheltered homeless individuals formerly living underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway near Calliope and Baronne Streets.
Approximately 55 homeless individuals were moved into shelter and were connected with services that will link them to housing, mental and physical health, and job training options. The City coordinated relocations and shelter housing in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, the New Orleans Mission, Ozanam Inn, Exodus House, Bethel Colony Ministries, UNITY of Greater New Orleans, Volunteers of America, Metropolitan Human Services District, Salvation Army, Travelers Aid, and Interim Louisiana Hospital. The New Orleans Health Department coordinated onsite health screenings and consultations.
“This effort was an important collaboration between multiple service partners in the best interests of our citizens,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “No one should feel they have to live on the streets . By connecting these individuals in need with vital services, we are putting them back on the path to permanent housing status. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure that all New Orleanians have a place they can call home and that our city is clean and safe.”
The City’s Office of Neighborhood Services, which oversees homeless policy, has been communicating with all homeless individuals throughout this process. To ensure the safety and health of all citizens, as of Friday, November 16, 2012, the area under the Pontchartrain Expressway will be closed and individuals will not be allowed to sleep, camp or park there.
“We have been focused on improving the quality of life for all New Orleanians, across the board, particularly for the most vulnerable in our community,” said Dr. Karen DeSalvo, City of New Orleans Health Commissioner. “Today’s efforts will reduce the risk of harm and health hazards that exist for this population.”
The City’s Department of Sanitation has removed all mattresses, chairs and other items, and it sent a mechanical street flusher and sweeper to the area. The New Orleans Police Department and its Homeless Assistance Unit will regularly patrol the area. The Downtown Development District will also support the City’s efforts by deploying Clean Teams with a power washer and Public Safety Rangers help monitor. In order to prevent individuals from congregating in this area again, the City will erect a permanent fence.