Talking to Homeless People in New Orleans, January 2019

Illustration: Jim Cooke (GMG)

New Orleans is home to more than 1,300 homeless people. Everybody has a story.

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All photos by author.

Squeaky, 58 years old, St. Louis Street, French Quarter. Moved to New Orleans from Maryland five years ago.

“Married thirty-plus years. Cancer took her away from me. I ended up losing it. Got out the nut house, couldn’t hold a job down. Everybody kept saying, ‘Go to New Orleans. Jobs are plentiful.’ But a lot of people in Maryland never been here.

I listened to them, come here thinking I could start a fresh life. I had a few temporary jobs here and there, but nothing permanent. I refuse to give up. I don’t think god will put more on my shoulders than I can handle. Every day is a struggle. One day to the next.

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I thought in a week or two I’d have a job. Seems like you gotta know somebody here to get a job. I don’t know nobody here, so it makes it harder for me.

I stayed [in the shelter] the first time I came here, and I woke up with nothing but my drawers. So I said, that’ll never happen again. I see either me ending up hurting somebody, or somebody hurting me. I’d rather stay out on these streets.

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I wake up, if I’m lucky enough to have a few dollars in my pocket I get breakfast, go to the library and get on the internet, fill out applications. When I finish with that I leave, go hit doors. I don’t mind working for what I get. I love to work. Been working all my life. Landscaping, truck driving. Work has never been a problem for me.

You just gotta deal with the insults, stares, the giggles and laughs. You swallow your pride and your dignity that you got to sit here doing this. But I’d rather do this than go out and rob somebody or sell any drugs. Some people look at you and understand it.

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A job, that’s all I ask. For a chance. I don’t drink, I don’t use drugs. They can piss test me seven days a week. I believe in that man upstairs. That’s my alcohol and drugs right there.

I’m still in another world in my mind right now. I built my whole world around my wife. It was just me and her for 34 years.”

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Betsy, 25 years old, Pontchartrain Expressway overpass. In New Orleans seven years, from Wisconsin originally.

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“My mom met somebody online and she got married, so I moved here a year after she did. On and off I been out here. I was out here for six months, then I got a house, then something went wrong so I had to come out here again. I been out here for a year and a half almost. I stay right around here, in Camp Callio [the homeless tent city under the New Orleans expressway]. You gotta wait six months to a year to get Section Eight housing.

Usually drivers treat me pretty good. You just wave, and they wave back. I wake up, get a little money for food, eat, relax with my friends. There’s some people that keep to themselves, there’s some people that keep together and try to create like a family with people that have your back. I’m working with [local homeless services charity] Unity right now, so me and my fiancee can get a place. It should be a couple months. It takes a minute.

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It’s pretty good. People pass out food. If you have a homeless person sign, that makes people think, ‘Could I help them? Or do I think they’re gonna do wrong?’ Some people do do wrong, but there’s other people that do right.”

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Derick, 32 years old, Decatur Street, French Quarter. Born and raised in New Orleans. Homeless for six months.

“I lost my job. Me and my wife broke up. Going through a divorce. I was working in a restaurant. Work’s about to pick up again. Matter of fact, I’m about to go down to Coop’s and see if they let me work down there.

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A normal day? Just walking around, being homeless. When it’s cold at night I sleep on a vent. The last couple nights I slept on a vent on the side of the Royal Sonesta.

When you ask people something, they ignore you, and tell you to fuck off and shit. Police don’t mess with you for no reason, unless you’re drinking and causing problems.

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I’m a veteran. I get a check. But I got three kids so they take it all for child support. They supposed to be helping me get housing. There’s a waiting list. They have too many veterans down here. It’s been about two and a half months since I got involved and applied for it.

I’m a drug free homeless dude, so I’m kinda secluded away. They got different types of homeless people. There’s the alcohol homeless people, there’s the heroin addict homeless people, they all look out for each other I guess. I don’t get involved in all that.

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If I could get work, I’d work as much as I could.”

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Brad, 46 years old, Camp Street expressway off-ramp. Born and raised in New Orleans.

“My girlfriend died. I was doing a side job, really depressed. Fell off a ladder, fractured my leg in two spots. I got a steel rod in my leg. It keeps getting infected. I had to get it replaced twice.

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At the time I was heavily drinking. I haven’t drunk in the last 26 months by the grace of god. But my leg keeps bothering me. The doctor told me I have to stay off it, for the last eight months. So I been having to sit out here like this. But I been homeless for about a year and a half now. Ever since she passed away and I went into that deep, dark place.

I was in the Army, 1996-2003. I was dishonorably discharged. Drinking in a government building. I was with that girl, and she passed away. We were together for like ten years. She got endocarditis.

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I’m trying to get my housing, but it’s hard for me to get it right now because I was dishonorably discharged. I’m trying to get the paperwork that I need, it’s just a long process. I’ve had Unity try, but it’s very, very hard to get these programs and stay up with it. They have so much stuff they want you to do. They want you to get this paperwork, and that paperwork, and it’s hard to get around when you have a bad leg.

I stay by the ferry landing, over by the casino. I don’t like to stay over here by the bridge. It’s bad up in there.

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Say out of 100 people [driving by], you might get 15 people who might help you out. A lot of people sometimes will ride by and say, ‘Get a job, you piece of shit,’ stuff like that. They don’t know your situation. You can’t explain nothing to people that’s already got their mind made up like that.

Housing is a big thing. It would get more people off the street, we wouldn’t have to deal with this type of stuff. The shelters, all my stuff’s been stolen like ten times already. You gotta deal with all these different people in there, it’s a lot to deal with. A lot of people don’t act right.

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This government shutdown kind of messed me up. Because [the housing agency] was expecting some type of grant in the beginning of the year, and when that happened it kinda pushed everything back. They told me they hope to get to me in three to four weeks, but somebody told me it might be like a two month wait.”

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About the author

Hamilton Nolan

Senior Writer. Hamilton@SplinterNews.com