NEW ORLEANS -- April Youngblood has lived under the Pontchartrain Expressway in Central City for two years, and she’s not alone.
There are an estimated 1,600 people living on the streets with Youngblood.
And there’s an entire homeless community under the expressway. Tents, chairs, mattresses, bikes and bags of personal items fill the area. For many homeless people, this is their home.
Today, the city cleaned up the area and tried to get people help they need, but it wasn’t without controversy.
"Two weeks ago I got a bunch of clothes, as I’m standing there everything I had they’re throwing it away,” Youngblood said. “If you say you’re here to help us, help us."
The health department, office of community services and the department of sanitation partnered to toss out mattresses and tents and powerwash under the expressway Friday.
They said cleaning it up is important and helps to remove infestations and improve sanitation.
And homeless advocates said there are avenues of help that exist. According to UNITY of Greater New Orleans, there are more than a dozen shelters in the area willing and ready to take in people.
Most of the shelters provide homeless people or families with a place to stay anywhere from a night to three months.
John Lonardo said the New Orleans Mission takes anyone.
"It doesn’t matter their age, their color, their gender, their nationality, everyone's welcome into the Mission," Lonardo said. "Here's the only requirement: do you want to change your life?"
Youngblood’s answer is yes, but she said it’s harder than it seems.
"When you walk into a place for employment you can’t say 'I’m sorry, sir, but can you send my mail to the Claiborne bridge?'" Youngblood said. "It's not easy and you want to do something different and you try and you try and you try.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said homelessness is better today than it has been in prior years. "We're out there on a regular basis. It’s a real challenge for us; it’s a challenge all over America, but it’s one we take really seriously."
Another homeless shelter is planned to open by the end of the year. It'll be a low-barrier shelter, which means a drug of alcohol test would not be required.
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