APTOPIX America Protests New Orleans

People raise their fists during a rally outside Jackson Square in New Orleans, Friday, June 5, 2020, protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

As a New Orleans native, it’s impossible not to be aware of the problem of homelessness in America. Just under a decade ago, New Orleans was one of the top ten US cities struggling with homelessness. Even though homelessness in the city has decreased by over 80% since 2011, it is still a major problem especially for people of color who are overrepresented among the homeless.

In addition to the protests, marches, letter writing campaigns and social media blasts, I think a movement to assist members of the black community who are homeless is necessary. On top of their daily struggle to find basic human necessities such as shelter, food and water, they face much of the same violence and harassment as the rest of the black community.

Megan Wells, a San Francisco based data journalist, published an article about the rates of violence against the homeless. These people face harassment, sexual assault, violence and even murder by civilians and law enforcement alike. 

People of color make up 51% of the homeless in America with black people making up 40% of the total homeless population, according to the statistics released by the Homelessness Research Institute (HRI) in 2018.

That is a massive overrepresentation of black Americans.

Only 13% of the national population is comprised of black people and yet, according to the HRI, they are overrepresented in the homeless populations of every single state. 

Many of the New Orleans Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests march through the Central Business District or the French Quarter, both of which are densely populated by the homeless.

Although the movement by no means intentionally excludes the homeless, it strikes me as almost paradoxical to watch a community band together to save black lives and then march right past these black men and women living on the streets.

Donating supplies and food to homeless shelters is fantastic, but while we’re all fighting to change legislature to reform police violence why not push for a protected status for people experiencing homelessness and advocate for updates to the municipal codes that punish the homeless for sleeping, making money or using the restroom? These codes are discriminatory for making it basically illegal for these people to live.

With all the momentum for BLM and legislative reform intended to make our country safer for people of color, especially back Americans, why not continue to push the borders of what we’re asking for? Don’t stop at police reform – continue pushing for the basic human rights and humane treatment for the whole community, homed and homeless. 

Marie Plunkett is a 21-year-old Classical Studies major from New Orleans, Louisiana. 

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