Residents Demand to Move Home
Sunday, June 4, 2006
NEW ORLEANS, June 3 -- About 100 people gathered in the median across from a fenced-in public housing project Saturday to demand a return home for people who lived there and in other housing projects around New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina.
"I want to come home. Simply that," said Armand W. Alfred, 76, his soft voice turning almost plaintive. "I belong in there. I still have some valuables there. And that's where my bed is. The last bed I owned is in that apartment."
Alfred said he was evacuated to Washington, D.C., in the week after Hurricane Katrina struck nine months ago, but returned at the end of February for his sister-in-law's funeral.
Since then, he said: "I'm going from house to house, from friend to friend. Sleeping on floors. I have no address."
Water reached about halfway up the one-story buildings across the street from the project, but the high concrete foundations of the two-story brick complex kept water from reaching that level inside, people said. They said the first story could be gutted and decontaminated so people could live on the second floor.
Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) said New Orleans had nearly 8,000 public housing residents before the storm, but fewer than 1,000 have been able to return.
"Everybody who had to leave this town . . . ought to have the right to return," he said during the rally. "The rich, the poor and in-between. And the folks who have the least, we ought to do the most to make sure we make it easier for them to come back and rebuild their lives."
Cynthia Wiggins, manager of another complex, said the Department of Housing and Urban Development has had more than enough time to put together a plan. She said more demonstrations will be held until the public housing complexes are reopened.
Alfred was among 10 to 20 demonstrators who had lived in the complex before the storm. Most of the people who were in a tent city set up in the median were from elsewhere in the city or out of town, there to support project residents.
"I don't think the idea is to live here, but to have a presence here as long as it takes for the fence to come down," said Marty Roland of the United Front for Affordable Housing, which helped to organize the demonstration.
Capt. John Bryson, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman, said he would be talking with the police chief and city attorney about how long the tents and shelters could remain. The median of a four-lane highway is not a safe place to stay, he said.
"It's very peaceful. And we respect anyone's right to demonstrate. And we will assist them and make sure they are safe. Safety is the issue here," he said.