Treme residents condemn growing homeless encampment near Claiborne, business owners say visitors are being harassed

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – City and state leaders held a community meeting Wednesday night to discuss the growing homeless encampment under the I-10 overpass in Treme.

The meeting was hosted by Councilmen Eugene Green and Freddie King and was attended by various city and state leaders and State Representative Royce Duplessis.

“This should be a total paradigm shift in how we deal with homelessness in this city,” one resident said.

“Many people are begging our patrons, begging for handouts, approaching us even in our locked cars,” said another who owns a business in the area.

A large homeless encampment can be seen under the I-10 overpass in the middle of Claiborne Avenue. Residents and business owners expressed frustration, saying they or their customers are constantly harassed by having to step over dirty needles and other trash.

“We need to know what you can do for us to make our place safer,” said Louis Charbonnet, owner of Charbonnet Funeral Home, which has operated in Tremé since 1883.

Charbonneau held the meeting at his business and about 60 people attended.

“This is the oldest African-American unit in the country. Treme is the oldest established Black Quarter in the country,” Charbonnet said. “It is of considerable importance. We cannot simply allow it to be destroyed.

He said the area’s homeless population has grown since the city cleared the abandoned Bywater Naval Base in July.

“We have bullying. People come up and just make fun of everyone that’s here. Everyone they see is being asked for money. The stench, the smell, you can feel that the neighborhood doesn’t smell clean anymore,” Charbonnet said.

Charbonnet said he and other business owners in the area have an agreement with the state that allows visitors to park in the parking lot under the overpass. A Louisiana Department of Transportation Development (DOTD) representative said the agreement would allow business owners to fence off the area, a decision also discussed by city council members.

One of the topics that was touched upon at the meeting was the bureaucracy surrounding the area’s homeless problem and the difficulty that comes with dealing with it.

“It just seems like there’s really no one in charge,” Duplessis said. “It seems like everyone who wants to try to do something about it has some level of shared responsibility, but there’s really no real responsibility when it comes to this problem.”

Duplessis asked a DOTD representative about the possibility of a local entity getting involved in maintaining the area under the overpass, which is technically state property, while maintaining public access.

The representative pointed to the agreement already in place and said most of the area is already jointly used with the city.

In 2018, the US Supreme Court decided Martin v. Boise, a decision that made it harder for municipalities and states to enforce anti-camping laws if there aren’t enough available beds locally to house all the homeless people cleared from public property.

Martin v. Boyce could make it difficult for either the city or the state to come in and clean up the camp completely.

When the DOTD representative was asked if the state could fence off the area, he said the state has a number of similar requests across the state and that it would be prohibitively expensive.

“It’s really hurting my business. I am not, as a national corporation did two weeks ago, [able to] just close and move out,” Charbonnet said. “I’ve been here since 1883. I can’t move.”

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