Mayor Mitch Landrieu plans to dedicate more than $17 million to affordable housing programs in his 2016 budget, including expanded efforts to reduce homelessness in a city that already announced success in effectively eliminating homelessness among the city's military veterans. But some City Council members also want the city to focus on panhandlers and "beggars," a problem At-Large Councilwoman Stacy Head says has become "unacceptable."
On Nov. 3, Ellen Lee, director of the city's Office of Community Development, presented the office's 2016 budget, which includes HousingNOLA, an ambitious affordable housing platform and set of policy recommendations slated for release next month. Head asked whether the office can begin targeting people asking for change at intersections throughout the city, a practice she said has led to an environment of "mayhem, filth" and is a danger to drivers. Head said homeless outreach organization Unity of Greater New Orleans has done "unbelievable outreach" but has been "completely rejected" by panhandlers. "Well over 50 percent of people on the corner begging, they believe, are not in fact homeless," Head said.
Lee said more funding could help the office expand its outreach efforts, but the city can't enforce panhandling without also enforcing students and sports teams asking for change at intersections.
During budget talks in 2010, Head asked the City Council and the Vieux Carre Commission how to crack down on loitering and "gutter punks" in the French Quarter. The following year, she authored an ordinance banning "aggressive panhandling" in the Central Business District, but in 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court declared the citywide anti-begging ordinance unconstitutional.
In 2015, the city housed 1,117 formerly homeless people, with 101 housed permanently as of September. The city also will open a new facility this year offering permanent supported housing for formerly homeless people and low-income working families.