[A-List] Fwd: [R-G] Killer Fires and the Homeless: What Does It Say About Us?
Suzanne de Kuyper
suzannedk at gmail.com
Fri Dec 31 08:50:30 MST 2010
It says everything anybody needs to know about the actual conditions in the
greatest democracy in the world. Makes you wonder how many of the homeless
in the US northwest and the US northeast froze in the snow storms. Does
anyone know what their numbers were before the storms? Or is that another
case of not allowing actual numbers come out like for those flagdraped
caskets of dead US soldiers, or for the unnamed, unknown Iraqi dead and
maimed and homeless? Journalists lost both their jobs and their lives for
reporting what they were not supposed to report. This one is okey....just
some homeless kids.....but oh, who have we become? Suzanne
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Romi Elnagar <bluesapphire48 at yahoo.com>
Date: Fri, Dec 31, 2010 at 8:40 AM
Subject: [R-G] Killer Fires and the Homeless: What Does It Say About Us?
To: Suzanne de Kuyper <suzannedk at gmail.com>
What Does It Say About Us?
Killer Fires and the Homeless
By BILL QUIGLEY
young people, who the Fire Department said were “trying to stay warm,”
perished in a raging fire during the night in New Orleans. The young
people were squatting in an abandoned wood framed tin walled warehouse
in a Ninth Ward neighborhood bordering a large train yard. The young
people apparently had a barrel with wood burning in it for heat.
Officials said this was the city’s most deadly fire in twenty five
The eight young people, estimated to be in their
late teens and early twenties, remain unidentified. “We don’t know
their IDs,” said the Fire Department, “they were so burned we cannot
even tell their genders.”
Audrey, a young woman with brown dreads and a Polish
last name, arrived at the scorched scene. She spent the night in the
warehouse a couple of times. Because last night was so cold she and a
few others begged money from people in the French Quarter and got enough
to spend the night in a hotel. Do you know who was in there? “Usually
10 to 15 people, nobody uses last names, but Katy, Jeff, Sammy, Nicky,
John and Mooncat usually stay there,” she sobbed. Why did people stay
here? “A lot of freight hoppers stay here,” she said, pointing to the
nearby trains. “We are just passing through, hopping trains. We don’t
have any money.” Behind her a group of young people were crying and
hugging as they picked up pieces of a navy blue sweatshirt from the
There are an estimated 1.6 to 2.8 million homeless
youth in the US, people between the ages of 12 and 24, according to a
June 2010 report of the Center for American Progress. Most are homeless
because of abuse, neglect, and family conflict. Gay and transgender
youth are strikingly over-represented.
The fire happened in an area of abandoned warehouses
at the end of Prieur Street, two blocks towards the train tracks down
from the new Family Dollar on Claiborne. It is a modest neighborhood.
Some people are back, some aren’t. One block from the warehouses is a
long lime green shotgun house with a beautiful red rose bush in front.
Next door stands a big grey double shotgun with a wide open door and
tattered curtains hanging out broken windows. Untouched since Katrina,
the grey house sports OWNER HAS DOG spray painted on the front and the
date, 10.8.5. “After Katrina, people don’t have the money to fix their
houses up,” said the firefighter.
Across the street from the blackened warehouse is a
vacant lot with a tiny handmade wooden shelter at its end. No
electricity, no water. Inside are a mattress and some clothes. Follow
the path through the weeds and there is another long vacant building
that looks like it was once a school. Clearly people stay here as
well. Empty cans of baked beans, chili, and Vienna sausages are piled
next to Four Loko cans, jars of peanut butter, and empty juice boxes.
“Where’s our skate park?” is painted onto the wall in blazing red. A
Thanksgiving card with a teddy bear on the outside lies on the
pavement. Nana wishes the best to granddaughter Heather and son
New Orleans has 3,000 to 6,000 homeless people
living in abandoned buildings according to an August 2010 report by
Unity of Greater New Orleans. The report, “Search and Rescue Five Years
Later: Saving People Still Trapped in Katrina’s Ruins,” notes
homelessness has doubled since Katrina. Seventy-five percent of the
people in those buildings are survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Outreach
workers report many are disabled but many also work. Inside abandoned
buildings live full-time sitters and restaurant workers.
Since Katrina, New Orleans has a severe homeless
problem because of the scarcity of affordable housing. HUD and local
governments demolished over 4000 affordable public housing apartments
after Katrina. “The current housing crisis in New Orleans reflects the
disastrous impact of the demolition policy,” according to the UN Special
Rapporteur on Adequate Housing in a February 2010 report very critical
of the United States. Rents rose. Tens of thousands of homes remain
vacant. Over 30,000 families are on the waiting list for affordable
A November 2010 report from the Greater New Orleans
Community Data Center pegs the number of vacant and blighted properties
at over 40,000 in New Orleans with more in the suburbs – 14,000 of which
are owned by the government.
Unity for the Homeless has been asking for help for
people living in abandoned buildings for years. They have four outreach
workers who nightly check on people living in abandoned buildings.
Five recommendations from Unity to help these thousands of people:
convert abandoned building into housing for the homeless; fund case
managers to help people with disabilities move into housing; additional
outreach and housing search workers; create a small shelter with
intensive services for people with mental health problems who are
resistant to shelters; and serious investment in affordable rental
housing. There are several hundred housing vouchers available for
disabled homeless people but no money to fund the caseworkers they need.
Nationally, the US has severely cut its investment
in affordable housing despite increasing need from the foreclosure and
economic crises. Homelessness is of course up all over. The U.S.
Conference of Mayors reported in December 2010 that demands for food and
housing are up across the country. The causes? Unemployment, high
housing costs and low wages.
Will we look into our abandoned buildings and look
into the eyes of our abandoned daughters and sons and sisters and
brothers? Will our nation address unemployment, high housing costs, and
low wages? Will we address the abuse, neglect, and family conflict that
create homelessness for millions of youth, especially gay and
transgender youth? Or will the fires continue and the lives end?
Bill Quigley is Legal Director of
the Center for Constitutional Rights and law professor at Loyola
University New Orleans. You can reach Bill at quigley77 at gmail.com
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