Neighbors want city to crack down on Esplanade Ave. squatters

Paul Murphy talks about squatters on Esplanade Avenue.

NEW ORLEANS - Some French Quarter and Marigny neighbors are complaining about young people using the Esplanade Avenue neutral ground as a camp ground.

The self-proclaimed "Travelers" sleep in crude tents or under the stars.

Mark McGrain who lives in the area, started a public campaign of social media against the encampments.

"You have tents on poles and stretched over bicycles, litter left on pallets, the next morning and coming back and reclaiming that spot at night.and protecting it with a band of dogs, it becomes difficult to use this space," McGrain said. "This is squatting, right in the middle of the city's key tourist areas, residential areas."

We asked one squatter to explain why he was camping out on the neutral ground.

He said, "Dude, get the (blank) out of here. Trying to profit off of us while we're trying to get the (blank) out of here."

New Orleans City Council member Stacy Head said city law prohibits camping out on the public right of way.

"You can't camp on the public ground," Head said. "You cannot obstruct the public right of way."

Head is now urging the city Sanitation, Parks and Parkways and Police Departments to remove the squatters and all of their camping gear. 

She is also volunteering to give up a small portion of her city hall office budget to make sure this is done for at least the next two months.

"To regularly and systematically disrupt this behavior," Head said. "I don't think anybody is suggesting that we want to haul all of these people to jail."

Back on Esplanade Avenue, McGrain claims police have refused to order the vagrants to leave.

"They tell us they can't do anything," McGrain said. "That, unless they witness some criminal act, they can't do anything."

NOPD released a brief statement explaining the department's policy.

"Their presence on the neutral ground is not illegal so there is no law for NOPD to enforce," NOPD spokeswoman Dawne Massey wrote. "NOPD can and will enforce laws when they are broken and reported to police such as obstruction of public pathways, public intoxication, aggressive solicitation, fighting, lewd conduct (urinating in public), etc. Public pathways do not include the neutral ground."  

© 2017 WWL-TV


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