Homeless in New Orleans: from streets to shelters

The Homeless population is evident in New Orleans. Scattered throughout the streets the homeless people can be found sleeping on park benches and bus stops. Pushing their belonging in grocery baskets, tattered and weather beaten, they live under bridges and in blighted houses.

Even though life may be hard living on the streets, there are still places the homeless can go to find refuge and peace even if it is only for one night. "All homeless people are not drug addicts," said Mike Logan, a former homeless person who is now a security officer for the Ozanam Inn and past resident.

"Everyone has this concept that all homeless are drug addicted but every individual case varies. I’m proof," said Logan who became homeless after a divorce several years ago. "We try to take care of all the basic need for the homeless," said Clarence Adams, the assistant administrator at the Ozanam Inn, a homeless shelter that provides transitional housing for men.

Women who come are given vouchers to stay at other homeless facilities that may charge and the Ozanam Inn pays the fee, Adams explained. Boarding is free and meals are served daily at the shelter, beginning at 6a.m. breakfast is served.

Nightly meals are prepared at 2p.m. and sandwiches are handed out at 6p.m. feeding approximately 700-to-800 people per day. "Anyone that comes, no questions asked," Adams said. "Some of our clients are not necessarily homeless. People on social security, have an income of $560 a month so if they want to come here for a meal that is fine. We give out clothing to men, women and children. We serve as a mail drop for the homeless and they fill prescription from Charity or University Hospital."

"We have a program to assist those who are willing to participate in their transitional program by saving 80 percent of the money they earn so at the end of their stay they will have enough to start over," Adams said.

Alvin Warner a four-year resident of the Ozanam Inn, agreed. He said he thinks this is a wonderful place. Like Logan, Warner homelessness had its roots also in a divorce. "After 14 years of marriage, I and my wife broke up and I moved back to New Orleans. With no friends and family I wound up coming here," Warner said. " I really believe in this program. I have not given up on it and it has never given up on me."

While Ozanam Inn requires no fee, other facilities in New Orleans charge the homeless to stay overnight. The Brantley Baptist Center, which has been around since 1927. "We believe in a hand up and not a hand out," said Dave Rhymes, assistant director of the center.

"People should work for what they get our fee is $5 a night based on minimum wage. The idea is to go work an hour and you can have your basic needs meet."

Some people don’t agree with charging the homeless a fee to stay in a shelter. "Any social programs that help the homeless I am in support of but the problem is that the vast majority of homeless people don’t have money," said Robert Collins, professor of urban studies at Dillard University. "So if you charge a fee to shelter the homeless, basically you are defeating the purpose because most homeless people cannot afford to pay the fee. So in essence, you are putting that shelter out of reach for the average homeless person."

"I sleep there sometimes," said Brandon Williams, another homeless man. "I collect money from the tourists in the French Quarter and sometimes my friends who work in the French Quarter help me out with little jobs from time to time. When I feel the weather is getting too bad, I go and stay there."

Williams pointed out that drugs, indeed, were at the root and still is why he is homeless. "I was a drug addict for many years and over time I lost every thing." New Orleans has a comprehensive program of services for the homeless called Health Care for Homeless People that is operated by the New Orleans Health Department. "We provide health care for homeless individuals," said Willie Mae

Martin, executive director of health care for the homeless. "We provide medical care, dental care and psychiatrics social care. We serve almost seven thousand people a year." Approximately 17,000 to 19,000 men, women and children are homeless in the New Orleans area according to service providers’ statistics.