NEW ORLEANS (DEC. 24, 2007) -With music from DJ Big Mike floating through the air,
Christmas trees, piles of donated new & used clothing, four tables of food flowing, dancing, and
beautiful weekend weather, it could be any New Orleans Christmas block party or family
get-together. In every sense of the words it is. Only this is not your ordinary N'awlins party. It is a
party of hope.
This is Canal Street at North Claiborne Avenue in the Crescent City, underneath the I-10, a
self-proclaimed "shelter" of Hurricane Katrina survivors who are dubbed "homeless". One man said
he has been here since right after the storm. But there is no Red Cross truck parked here. No
portable toilets or washroom facilities.
"The women have to go around there, and the men go over there, and 'pee' ", one homeless woman
recently said, pointing her fingers wildly in directions this reporter didn't want to know. "The city
don't give us no port-o-lets you know". Another woman, who would give no comment, idly
collected trash with a large garbage can.
Indeed, as unwanted as it may be, the city administration claims to have nowhere else to house the
homeless of New Orleans. Many were recently evicted from an encampment of tents and cardboard
in Duncan Plaza, across the street from city hall, due to pending demolition of the old State Supreme
Court building. Several housing advocacy groups, organizations, some churches, and individuals
have scrambled to help. Recent estimates have put the number of the city's homeless at 12,000,
reportedly double its pre-Katrina level.
Some of these people of the street have jobs or get a government check once a month for various
disabilities. But most can't afford the rent in a city where rental costs since pre-Katrina has doubled
in some areas. Most don't have much, some have nothing, and many wouldn't have food to eat if not
for generosity. What they already have for Christmas is each other. And they have hope. What they
get for Christmas is an outpouring of love and hope from a diversified community of organizations,
churches, & individuals who care and show the same love - as fleeting as it was - that abounded
nationwide in the immediate aftermath of the storm that drowned a city.
A local church donated a nicely decorated Christmas tree that stands near the corner of Canal Street
under this concrete canopy. Another, less fortunate tree sits nearby, a reminder that this is no office
party. According to several homeless men, there has been a show of support from passersby with
food, ocassionally a few dollars, and clothes. A woman who did not identify herself said a couple of
local churches had donated clothing, as evidenced by disheveled piles of shirts & pants against one
With turkey, ham, chicken, soup, and a dish she calls italian hash, Glenda Ratcliff, of Amite,
Louisiana had plenty of help on hand from Linda Bailey, Andrea Lanis, and nephew Skye Ratcliff as
her family & friends network (extending to a cousin in St. Helena Parish, Betty Addison) got St.
Helena area churches to donate a collective 250 pairs of new socks. A WalMart store donated
enough products to prepare 150 care packages. "My momma believes in feeding others first, before
you feed yourself", she said, as she and her crew cleared away their table after a day feeding an
unknown number of men and women at the corner of Conti Street & North Claiborne Avenue.
In the middle of the block, the Leon family was still busy dishing up huge plates of mouth-watering
red beans & rice, fresh sliced turkey, snap beans, and cheese macaroni. Not far away, Dorothy
Washington, along with other generations of her family, including Dexter Quinn, his son Dominic,
Gregory and John Washington, & others had stacks of prepared plates available.
All of these families donated time, food, and their own money, and neither of these families knew
how many they had fed, but they all agreed it was many of the downtrodden folks who live in this
As quite a few residents did the "Soldier Boy" dance & strutted to the beats put down by DJ Big
Mike a few feet away, Audrey Williams had the air of a happy party hostess as she, Shelita Albert, &
Betty Phillips spooned up styrofoam plates of hot food, while son Thomas Williams unloaded even
more food from the back of a pickup to the table.
Although there are cold nights ahead, there are many warm smiles this day. If it is Christmas in New
Orleans there is food. If there is food there may be happiness, where there is happiness, there may
be joy. Where there is joy, hope abounds.
Copyright © 2007 katrinaconnection.com
What do the HOMELESS do at Christmas?
story & photos by Phil Moore
A donated Christmas tree sits under I-10 at Claiborne Ave.
Donated clothes are piled up
People gather near the Leon family table
Glenda Ratcliff and her network of people brought
food and care packages
Some of the Leon family pausing from a busy day
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