Friday, July 11, 2008

Crossing under the highway overpass, through the intersection of N. Claiborne and Canal, I looked left and then right and saw a community of tents. How bizarre I thought. What are tents doing in such a urban center? Why have people gathered here? My stomach stank because tents in an urban center equals poverty.

Within my first two weeks in New Orleans, I would travel through this intersection several times to visit friends in the Mid-City and Lakeview neighborhoods. I finally asked Gabe and Lynzie (2 friends, who are part of the OK-Oregon Krewe) what they knew about all these tents. Lynzie said that the people gathered in CBD (Central Business District) by City Hall, initially after Hurricane Katrina because the area was one of the highest elevated in the city.

The next day, I met Catch, a fabulously bold and outspoken Louisianan with ties to the Northwest, who works with UNITY. She named the tent community, Tent City, and filled in more details about its history. Originally, the group was comprised of mostly homeless individuals, organizing themselves as Homeless Pride, and choosing to stay next to City Hall. Ignore the cynicism here if you can. :P Needless to say, somehow the government was able to convince the people that it was unsafe to stay in the area because of future construction projects. The community migrated to the somewhat weather protected land under the I-10 overpass. Catch explained that the community then became more infested with drug pushers and scammers along with the homeless.

What's more is Catch explained that every time New Orleans hosts an event, the city tries to 'clean up' the impoverished scenes, especially in the popular tourist spots, ie the French Quarter. Tent City is right outside of the French Quarter. New Orleans has hosted many large events in the last year, including the Sugar Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game, Jazz Fest, and most recently the Essence Festival. I passed Tent City of July 4, Day 1 of Essence Fest and the area was more than half cleared. The right side was completely blocked off, enclosed with New Orleans Police Department signs. I was shocked that I actually witnessed the 'clean up' which Catch explained It urked me the rest of the weekend and continues to, even more when I get closer to the community.

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