Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Homelessness & littering a lingering problem for BR; city officials say it's complicated

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BATON ROUGE - Jennifer Richardson with 'Keep Tiger Town Beautiful' does litter clean-ups all around the parish. Over the weekend, she and some volunteers tackled the notorious Siegen Lane underpass.

"This clean-up this weekend was the biggest clean-up and the most disgusting clean-up that we've ever had," Richardson said.

They collected around 62 contractor bags full of garbage, including needles and makeshift weapons. They also found boxes of uneaten, discarded food.

"If someone is showing you a sign that they need food, there was enough food under there to feed an army," she said.

The truth is, the homeless issue is complicated.

Karolyn Sanviero has been in Baton Rouge for the last six months by way of Washington. Monday is her second day panhandling, what they call "flying sign", at this intersection.

"A lot of it started happening after the pandemic. My husband lost his job. I lost my job. There was no more work. I have bipolar and depression. It just led me to getting high. It was an alternative to shutting out everything else going on with the pandemic," Sanviero said.

A former heroin addict, Sanviero is now on methadone. When we met her she was looking for a detox clinic. She says most everyone she meets on the streets battles with addiction.

"Homelessness leads you tothere's nothing else to doyou feel like you're hopeless, might as well get high."

While Richardson has been tackling the litter created by the homeless problem, the city is trying to get people off the streets.

"People who are experiencing homelessness or people who are panhandling are a very challenging group of folks to do outreach to. You have to build authentic relationships with them. You have to build trust with them. You have to do continuous outreach," Mark Armstrong with the mayor's office said.

The city, along with the sheriff's office, has been doing a homeless outreach program called the 'H.O.T. team' for a while but has recently added services for mental health through the bridge program. According to the mayor's office, the team goes out once a week in the mornings.

According to Sanviero, however, she hasn't seen the program in action.

"[They're] not reaching out of talking to us. They beep their horns and tell us to move around and that's it."

Sanviero wants drivers who pass by the homeless to know they are battling several demons.

"They're out there just to make it. Some of them are out there to feed their habit. But it's also people out there and them to get food to eat, sometimes to get money to pay for a hotel for the night so they can shower or wash their clothes."

But the city contends the best way to help is not to give out money.

"The best way to help someone who is experiencing homelessness or is panhandling is to do it through a recognized organization or charity," Armstrong said.

For a list of those organizations and charities, click here


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