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Many workers in the City of New Orleans use the free parking under the expressway in order to save money for their families. The City of New Orleans has blocked the area off for parking and intends to permanently close it in with a fence. This is being explained as being done to prevent the homeless from congregating in the area. Dealing with poverty and homelessness in New Orleans will not be accomplished by building a fence and moving people around. We cannot just sweep homelessness under the rug and expect our problems to be solved. We need real solutions to combat poverty and homelessness by empowering those people, not by shuffling them to different locations and preventing people from using free parking.

The reasons given for the closing of the area are to “remediate a health hazard”. What is that health hazard? Are people who parked under there under any health risk from parking there for months? This needs to be explained as well.

So we ask that the city explain this health hazard to make sure that the people who have parked under there are safe. We also ask for the city to find alternative ways to deal with homelessness and poverty that are more productive and for them to not eliminate the access to free parking under the bridge.

Update: After months of trying I was finally able to get through to someone from the New Orleans Interagency Council on Homelessness. She was not able to answer all of my questions. What she did answer actually left me with more questions than answers. I was told that allowing the areas under the bridge to be open was an “attractive nuisance” and that the area needed to be closed in order to keep the homeless away. She claimed it was for their safety because some homeless people had been victims of crimes. Attractive Nuisance laws are typically requirements to put up a fence to prevent kids from coming into your pool and not for keeping the homeless from sleeping under the bridge. And because shelters can deny access to people with alcohol, drugs or weapons, I am uncertain how many homeless are actually helped with this new regulation.

She also told me that maintaining the area under the bridge is expensive and that New Orleans has taken on that responsibility after Louisiana handed over the responsibility to them. She would not tell me how much those costs are and what percentage of costs they are as compared to  the cleaning of the rest of the downtown area. So I have to reject the notion that the added costs of keeping the area clean are that much more than the cleaning of the rest of the streets.

I still have not been told what exact law allows the city to close that area indefinitely, what the health hazard was that needed to be remediated, on what date the city took over the maintenance of the area under the bridge, and when (or if) the area will be opened back up for parking.

I was told that it was closed “indefinitely” for “free parking” which seems to suggest they are looking at handing the area over to parking companies so they can handle the maintenance. Though, she denied that this was what her words meant, her mentioning free parking makes me consider that as a possibility.

I believe now more than ever, that this is just an attempt to sweep homelessness under the rug during the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras. I do not believe it will help the homeless in the short or long term. It also hurts the residents of the city who work in the Central Business District and have less access during this time.

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