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.