A July story by Alex Woodward outlined the aftereffects of an arson fire that destroyed the headquarters of Women With a Vision, a Mid-City health clinic for at-risk women.
- Photo by Cheryl Gerber
- Deon Haywood plans to move her Women with a Vision health organization to a new location on Claiborne Avenue next year. In May, an arsonist set a devastating fire in the group's previous headquarters on N. Jefferson Davis Pkwy.
When a fire broke out at 215 N. Jefferson Davis Parkway after midnight in May, Deon Haywood rushed to the site to find a two-alarm blaze had destroyed Women with a Vision, the women's health organization she directs. The New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) and New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) categorized the fire as aggravated arson — breast exam models, reproductive health displays, awards and resources from toiletries to clothing were purposely torched.
For more than 20 years, WWAV has helped connect women from at-risk communities to health resources, providing safe-sex education, cancer support and prevention, HIV testing and other services to sex workers, drug users, victims of abuse and homeless women. Its headquarters served as a safe place where women could be comfortable — talk, eat, rest, or spend time with staff. After the fire, WWAV moved into a small conference room at First Grace United Methodist Church.
In July, Haywood told Gambit, "This was an act of violence toward women. ... Probably for a long time — if we don't get an answer — I'm going to wonder, 'Why?' And it's hard not to take it personal. ... You can't allow acts of violence to stop you from speaking out about what's right."
Later that month, Haywood spoke at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., where she represented the U.S. on international panels regarding the criminalization of AIDS and sex workers in at-risk communities.
But WWAV has found a new home on Claiborne Avenue, where it will move in 2013. "The building does need a considerable amount of work, but it's doable," Haywood says. "I call it my blighted spot of heaven ... with a serious alarm system, by the way."
After the fire, organizations like AIDS United, the Drug Policy Alliance, Broadway Cares, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Palette Fund and the Summit Foundation helped raise funds for WWAV's next home. Additional local fundraisers helped Haywood secure a down payment for the new office. "We'll have to fundraise to make renovations happen, but I'm up to the challenge, and the community has stood with us," she says.
Despite losing its permanent home, the organization has maintained its advocacy work, helping pass legislation to remove crimes against nature for solicitation offenders from sex offender registries. Earlier this year, the group won a landmark case against the state's 200-year-old crimes-against-nature statute, which overturned a requirement that people convicted of soliciting oral and anal sex register as sex offenders (while people convicted of prostitution do not have to register). WWAV has helped 75 people work with the New Orleans Public Defender's Office file motions to remove their names from the registry, and there are more than 100 others waiting to file.
Haywood says she hasn't received any updates on NOFD and NOPD's criminal investigation of the arson. Next year, the Center for Reproductive Rights will publish a report on human rights defenders, citing WWAV and the arson. — Alex Woodward
In an April story, "The New Freret?," Alex Woodward outlined plans to replicate the urban renewal along Freret Street on another major thoroughfare: O.C. Haley Boulevard in Central City.
When she served as the New Orleans City Councilwoman for District B, Stacy Head gave Freret Street a much-publicized boost with an overlay district that helped usher in a dozen businesses to the corridor since 2009. Freret became a talking point in Head's tenure, and she put two other commercial corridors under her development microscope: Claiborne Avenue and Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. In April, Head described herself as O.C. Haley Boulevard's "cheerleader, trash pick-upper and neighborhood clean-upper" and described it as "New Orleans' next great rediscovered neighborhood."
"I believe in leveraging the market. The government's job is to leverage the market," she told Gambit. "We're not the end-all-be-all of commerce. What we should do is go in and figure out how to spur it and get out of the way."
With help from other neighborhood cheerleaders and resident organizations like the Oretha Castle Haley Merchants and Business Association, Cafe Reconcile, OCH Market, the Juvenile Justice Project and Urban Impact Ministries, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, the Good Work Network and Freret Boxing, restaurants and retailers eyed the neighborhood earlier this year and some have begun making the move. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum will relocate (along with its expansive library) to the former Dryades Market building, and has already begun boxing up its collection.
In her endorsement of LaToya Cantrell for the District B council seat, Head pointed to Cantrell's spearheading of commercial development in Broadmoor as head of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, including the Rosa F. Keller library's resurrection, a medical corridor and small business development.
Now Head passes the torch to Cantrell, whose district will see the development of Head's No. 3 priority: Claiborne Avenue, where a 150,000 square-foot mall will open near Harmony Oaks, the former C.J. Peete housing project. (Among the planned tenants: Raising Cane's, TJ Maxx, PetSmart, Ross Dress For Less and Michael's.) Head's office has pushed for development on that plot of land for several years — it most recently faced tough opposition from neighboring First Mount Calvary Baptist Church. The City Planning Commission approved the development's zoning requests at its Dec. 11 meeting, and it will head to City Council for final approval. — Alex Woodward