Thursday, April 12, 2007
Highway overpass is home for balloon magician

Organizations like ACORN are trying to address New Orleans' need for affordable housing.

Cafe DuMonde is an institution in New Orleans. Tourists from all over the world come to the outdoor restaurant to savor its famous beignets. And every day, provided it's not raining or extremely cold, you can see 62-year-old Larry Lawler delighting the young and the young at heart with his balloon magic.

Pretty much anything a kid wants from a balloon, Larry can pull off. And if you're happy with his craftwork, he's happy to take a buck or two in tips. And that's how he makes his living.

This money used to be enough to pay his and his wife's rent in an apartment or a residential hotel. But prices have gone up dramatically in post-Katrina New Orleans. At the hotel they were living in when Katrina hit, prices have gone from $35 per night to $75 per night. So Larry and his wife Teresa have taken pretty drastic measures to find shelter.

It would be shocking to many of the parents who watch in delight as their children get their balloons, but Larry and Teresa spend many nights now eating sardines out of a can and sleeping in a box under a highway overpass in downtown New Orleans. We know that because we found them there while interviewing homeless people this week in New Orleans. The Lawlers are part of an expanding newly homeless contingent in this city.

New Orleans has a far smaller population now than it did before Hurricane Katrina. Most estimates have it at less than half of what it was before August 29, 2005. But experts say the number of homeless in New Orleans has gone from around 6,000 before Katrina to 12,000 now. The reason for that, they say, is that housing prices have skyrocketed as a result of an extreme shortage of housing units and shelters.

We find the homeless under bridges. We find them squatting in abandoned flood-devastated homes and churches. One man we talked to says he had never been homeless until three months ago. He says his daughter is in the U.S. Air Force in Germany, and she has no idea her dad is living in the streets. He says he doesn't have the heart to tell her.

Housing advocates in New Orleans are aware that people love their city and don't want to leave. But they advise those who want to come back here to make sure they have a job lined up before they come, because lower income people could find themselves as part of the newly homeless too.

Our balloon man Larry says he still hopes that home prices will come down and his life will go back to the way it used to be. But for now, sleeping outside is the fallback method of choice for a couple you might meet the next time you visit New Orleans.
Posted By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent: 5:47 PM ET
  12 Comments
Only in America, the land of the free!!

The bombed-out residents of Baghdad have it better: at least they have the sympathy of some of their fellow Muslims.
Posted By Anonymous G Robertson, Vancouver, British Columbia. : 7:43 PM ET
Pictures say a thousand words and news reports tell even more. But until you have been into the Katrina zone you will never really understand.
Posted By Anonymous Ron Dionne Crystal prings, Mississippi : 7:53 PM ET
Hi Gary,
Here in the Santa Barbara area, you'd never expect to see homeless people. But you do. And you see it in every city in America. Add to the high cost of housing, limited housing, unemployment, then the double duty burden of what KATRINA left behind, the homeless of New Orleans, must be disheartened beyond belief. What can we do? There must be an answer.
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 7:54 PM ET
Hello Gary~
These stories are so depressing! You know, there is just something special about someone who sincerely wants to delight children in a city that is still in ruins. To think that these people sleep in a box under an overpass!
I am overwhelmed at the numbers you blogged. Less than half the population is in New Orleans post Katrina but the homeless population has doubled!!!That is just nauseating! We need to get to work and fast! Thanks Gary, and let us know what we can do.
I hope and pray that Larry and Teresa find shelter and God keeps them safe and warm. I am thinking that their daughter who is in the U.S. Air Force in Germany might just see this on T.V.
This is all like a bad apocolyptic nightmare. Remember that 1980's German song protesting the cold war? 99 Luftballons?
99 years of war,
Left no room for victors.
There are no more war ministers,
Nor any jet fighters.
Today I'm making my rounds,
See the world lying in ruins,
I found a red balloon,
I think of you and let it fly~
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 8:04 PM ET
I hope the mayor is watching this story. These people have a job and they are still homeless.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago,Il : 8:13 PM ET
Gary: The homeless situation is always a terrible one, regardless if in NOLA or any other city. However, I don't know which is worse, the Dad not having the heart to tell his daughter he's living in the streets or the daughter whose heart will be broken when she eventually finds out.
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 8:31 PM ET
Gary/AC360:

Yes, Cafe DuMonde is bustling with attentive waiters, delicious coffee and mouth-watering beignets, but drive a few miles down any street from the Quarter, one will see abandoned homes and businesses in numbers beyond one's worst nightmare.

Recently, I interviewed a 81 year-old woman from Gentilly for an article I am writing. It took her 16 months to move into a disability trailer guaranteed by FEMA after her home was destroyed by the flood waters of Lake Ponchitrain. In the meantime, she lived briefly with out-of-state relatives, bedded down in cheap hotels and an eventually had to go into a Catholic shelter.

She was lucky. This 80-year old woman could have very easily ended up on the street homeless.

The French Quarter and Cafe DuMonde are delightful. But for me, I cannot see passed the destruction in the outskirts of the Quarter.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 9:48 PM ET
What has happened in New Orleans is a tragedy, a tragedy that has not stopped since Katrina hit the shores of the US. The city cries and America says "Stop your whining." We know we are alone. We are on our own. Imus, Nicole Smith, on and on. America needs its distractions because the real problems are hard. Enjoy your distractions America. The country is burning.
Posted By Anonymous doctorj, Hammond, LA : 10:21 PM ET
Another appalling example of how our federal government cannot take care of it's own business at home, much less it's reputation around the world. I did not think we were like that. I do not look forward to the future. Good people living under a bridge? A soldier's father on the streets? It's a shame seen and heard 'round the world. Good going Uncle Sam.
Posted By Anonymous Phil, Napa CA : 10:29 PM ET
I am appalled at the continued situation in New Orleans. Heads should roll and be replaced by more competent persons, at whatever level of government necessary to get the job done.
Posted By Anonymous Robbi, Angleton Tx : 11:33 PM ET
It's really tragic that we can spend billions, on an illegal war in Iraq that we will never win, but cannot help our own.

Why are we not outraged that it is taking so long for New Orleans to be rebuilt?, Why are we not out raged that this administration is so incompetent that they cannot do ANYTHING truthfully and efficently?
Why do we not expect more from those that are elected to serve OUR interests?

Thank goodness CNN and AC continue to remind us of what STILL needs to be done
Posted By Anonymous Reena, Phoenix AZ : 12:08 AM ET
Where is the mayor of New Orleans? I would think he would be in national headlines everyday. Do the citizens of New Orleans, like Larry, find any comfort with local govenrment? Particularly the mayor. They do have a mayor, correct?
Posted By Anonymous michelle ballwin mo : 2:03 AM ET
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