Several months after a tent city under the Pontchartrain Expressway was dismantled and the City Council passed an ordinance making it easier to crack down on such encampments, the city’s Health Department has introduced a set of rules outlining how it will go about clearing public spaces of obstructions like the tents and furniture common at such sites.
The new policy, unveiled at a public hearing Tuesday, implements the 2014 law that defines items such as tents and furniture as illegal obstructions when they are placed on public rights of way, including sidewalks, neutral grounds and the areas under elevated roadways.
The law allows the city to remove those obstructions and also to clean the areas involved.
According to the new rules — which need approval from the City Council — the Health Department or another city agency must post written notices at a site at least 72 hours before removing objects or performing any cleaning or rodent abatement at an offending area.
The notice must be distributed by hand to anyone found at the site and must be placed on any property, including vehicles, to be removed. The same notice must be posted everyday, at different times of the day, following the initial notification in order to “further facilitate the effectiveness,” according to the new rules.
Items that are cited and not removed by their owners or users can be removed after the 72-hour period by the Department of Sanitation or the Department of Public Works. They will be stored at a designated city facility for at least 90 days and can be reclaimed with “adequate proof of ownership.” Citizens must be able to describe the missing object as part of the claim to ownership.
Items not claimed within 90 days may be thrown away.
Citing public health hazards, the city dismantled a large tent city under the Pontchartrain Expressway in August. Many of those displaced in the crackdown quickly set up new camps nearby.
The new rules call for the city to follow up its sweep with a cleaning of the offending sites, including a power washing and, if necessary, rodent and pest abatement.
If the area is considered a health hazard, it may be blocked off with police barricades and monitored by the Police Department or other agencies.
The area under the Pontchartrain Expressway has been blocked off since the encampment was removed last year. The city had planned to contract with a company to manage the site as a parking lot, but bids for the project were not satisfactory, a city spokesman said Tuesday. The city now is considering managing a parking lot at the site itself.