Amid protests from a chorus of political leaders and nearby residents, Mayor Mitch Landrieu apparently is reconsidering plans to build a homeless shelter near two schools in Central City, just a week before a city agency was set to approve the deal.
Landrieu has asked the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to delay by a month a vote to close on the city’s planned $750,500 purchase of 3101 Erato St., a former boxing gym that was to be converted to house the "low-barrier" shelter.
In the interim, officials will consider two potential alternatives, Landrieu spokesman Tyronne Walker said.
“We promised all stakeholders and community members that we would seriously consider all of their feedback and all of their ideas,” Walker said late Tuesday. “And today is an example of us doing that.”
Sites now in contention are the old Veterans Affairs hospital on Perdido Street and the former Israel Augustine Middle School building near Tulane and South Broad avenues, he said. Neither site is near an open public school, unlike the Erato Street site.
In a move hailed as the linchpin in New Orleans’ long-term plan to end homelessness, city of…
The city’s consideration of new options does not mean it is abandoning the Erato Street site entirely. Officials could, after weighing the alternatives, decide to push ahead with the original plan.
But the announcement signals that Landrieu has at least heard the opposition to the Erato Street site and is open to revisions, something that seemed highly unlikely a few months ago.
The idea of a “low-barrier” shelter, which places few restrictions on which homeless people will be accepted, was not always mired in controversy. After Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and other officials went to San Antonio last year to see the concept in practice, she was one of the first to tout such a model for New Orleans.
The uproar began when a location was selected. Critics said the Erato Street gym, a block or two from Sylvanie Williams College Prep and the soon-to-be-reopened Booker T. Washington High School, was no place to house people who are mentally ill or struggling with drugs and alcohol. Cantrell also said it was too small to provide all the services the homeless need.
City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has turned her ire on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s push to build…
Landrieu pushed back, saying that children shouldn’t be afraid of the homeless and rallying advocates and activists to stand at his side. His administration said other locations had been considered but found wanting.
And supporters said the city had edged so far away from the San Antonio model — deciding to house the shelter residents indoors, rather than under a protective covering outside, for example — that some feared problems were unlikely to develop.
Until Tuesday, the Erato site appeared all but definite.
But a swell in criticism from elected officials and neighbors appears to have been a game-changer.
Asked who proposed the alternatives the city is now considering, Walker said the administration had spoken with City Council members Jason Williams, James Gray, Nadine Ramsey and Susan Guidry — none of whom had been strongly opposed to the mayor’s plans.
Cantrell and Councilwoman Stacy Head have been the most vocal critics of the Erato Street site.
The chorus of critics of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s push to turn a former boxing gym on Erato St…
A number of Orleans Parish School Board members also presented viable options, Walker said, mentioning members John Brown Sr., Woody Koppel, Nolan Marshall Jr. and Sarah Usdin.
The school closest to the Erato Street site, Sylvanie Williams, is run by the charter organization founded by School Board member-elect Ben Kleban. Kleban has been one of the biggest critics of the Erato site. Board member Leslie Ellison also has spoken against the site.
Both signed a petition urging the city to reverse its course on the shelter. As of last month, the petition had garnered more than 1,400 signatures.
Kleban said Wednesday he was grateful the mayor was looking at new options.
Cantrell said she was glad to hear the VA site is being considered. But she said she'll continue to advocate for additional services, such as a sobering center and other plans Walker has dismissed as too costly.
"Bottom line, we must create a welcoming low-barrier center that will really make a difference for the homeless and our entire community," she said.
The Redevelopment Authority board was due to discuss closing on the sale at a committee meeting Thursday, with the full board expected to ratify the plan next week.
That could have meant an opening date for the shelter of sometime in 2017. Switching to another site could cause delays.
For example, although the VA’s new medical center on Canal Street is open, the agency still uses its Perdido Street building for some services. It will continue doing so at least through next year, and possibly through 2018, Walker said.