City begins transporting #OccupyNOLA's homeless to service centers

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Homeless campers from Duncan Plaza wait outside Exodus House
  • Homeless campers from Duncan Plaza wait outside Exodus House

"What are you going to do for us today?" a woman, who did not wish to be named, loudly demands of Michelle Ussin.

"We're going to figure that out when we get you into your individual meeting," Ussin says.

Ussin remains admirably calm and patient this morning despite the growing crowd in the front room of non-profit homeless services center Exodus House, where she works as a counselor and intake specialist.

The New Orleans Police Department shuttled more than 30 people to the building at the corner of Ursulines Avenue and Broad Street. All of them are homeless campers from the two-month-old Occupy New Orleans encampment at Duncan Plaza, which faces imminent (but as yet unspecified) eviction by the city. The majority of the people at Occupy New Orleans are long-term homeless, many having moved there after the city recently cleared an encampment under the Calliope overpass of the Pontchartrain Expressway.

James Cutshaw, who's been living at Duncan Plaza since he was evicted from the Calliope camp, has been told he might be placed in an apartment. Staff members are also working on getting him an appointment with a doctor to treat a chronic heart problem.

"Of all the people I've talked to since I've been homeless, this has given me more hope than any of them," Cutshaw says.

(More after the jump)

James Cutshaw has been living in Duncan Plaza since the city cleared him out of another homeless encampment in October
  • James Cutshaw has been living in Duncan Plaza since the city cleared him out of another homeless encampment in October

Staff members at Exodus House will be working on assessing their needs throughout the day. Of course, what most of them need most is housing.Exodus House director Donald Wilkerson says he's working on trying to find it, but the city's shelters and permanent homeless housing centers may not have enough room for everyone.

"We're trying to be creative," Wilkerson says.

Homeless campers from Duncan Plaza wait outside Exodus House
  • Homeless campers from Duncan Plaza wait outside Exodus House

"It's probably not going to be a lot of housing. It's going to be a lot of services," like medical treatment and food stamps, says Wilkerson. "Housing might be available for some people. That's the end goal. But we've got to get that other stuff out of the way."

Getting that other stuff out of the way is going to prove to be a lengthy process. Each person is being interviewed individually by staff members. They arrived from Duncan Plaza at 9 a.m. By 11:15, many campers Gambit spoke to had been through several interviews and still weren't sure what was going to happen to them.

Still, they'll all be given a free lunch and a shelter from the rain, at least for the day. And many, like Elbert Knight, remain optimistic that staff will take care of them.

"They got a little process to go through, but they'll get it done," Knight says. "Have patience. You got to have patience."

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