A week after the New Orleans City Council passed a law strengthening the city’s ability to disperse homeless encampments, inhabitants of a tent city at Calliope and Camp streets have been given a 72-hour notice to remove all tents and furniture from the area.
The notifications were posted about 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to people living in the camp, meaning the deadline is Saturday night.
The notice appears to stop short of barring people from the area, only mandating the removal of large obstructions. Mirroring the language of the new ordinance, it prohibits placing tents, couches, mattresses, indoor chairs and a number of other types of furnishings on “a public right of way.”
The encampment consists of about 20 tents on a grassy piece of neutral ground under the Pontchartrain Expressway.
The city cleared a camp of about 160 homeless people who were sleeping under the expressway a few blocks away in August, declaring the area a “health and safety hazard.”
The city transported 86 of them to local shelters, though others just moved to new camps, such as the one at Camp and Calliope.
In a statement Thursday, City Hall spokeswoman Garnesha Crawford said, “Last night, the city began to actively notify the public of the new laws that allow for the removal of tents, furniture and other items in order to keep public spaces clean, safe and accessible.”
She added that the city plans to “transition those who are camped in areas across the city into clean and safe shelter.”
Crawford did not respond to a question about what the city would do with the property of the homeless.
Homeless advocates have previously said it would be unconstitutional for the city to seize or destroy such property without due process.
Fresno, California, recently paid an $850,000 judgment for unlawfully destroying the property of the homeless during a sweep.
In a letter written to the city attorney in August in response to the proposed ordinance, Bill Quigley, a Loyola law professor, urged New Orleans not to take a similar tack.
Quigley said the property of the homeless ranges from bicycles and shopping carts to clothing and hygiene supplies.
“This property cannot be unilaterally seized and destroyed by the government without complying with the due process of our constitution,” he wrote.
Some nearby residents have bombarded city officials with emails for months, urging them to remove the homeless from the area.
“I attempted to take some photos of the filth and was approached by one of the residents, threatening to take my camera and smash it,” Jeff Keiser wrote in an email Aug. 27. He then pleaded for action from City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and the Police Department.
Residents of the homeless encampment said Thursday that they were uncertain what the new order meant.
“What exactly are they going to allow and what aren’t they going to allow?” asked 43-year-old Angela Malone, who lives in the encampment.
She said she was unsure if the homeless or just their possessions would be removed from the camp.
Other individuals living in the encampment said they felt going to one of the shelters would be nothing more than a temporary solution.
“They continue to look for Band-Aids when what we need is an operation,” said Billy, a 46-year-old man living in the encampment. “We want to have the surgery that will fix the homeless epidemic.” He declined to give his last name.
Martha Kegel, executive director of UNITY of Greater New Orleans, an organization that works with the homeless, sent the City Council a letter Sept. 3 applauding the decision to crack down on the camps.
“Once tents and furniture are set up in a camp, our experience is that the population rapidly spirals out of control and the camp becomes a public health hazard,” she wrote.