Who says public policy doesn’t affect how people live? We’ve got an excellent example of it here in Baton Rouge.
The city’s mayor-president, Sharon Weston Broome, is just about the most homeless-friendly politician this side of Orleans Parish, and since Broome took office, bums, drug addicts and criminal vagrants have populated just about every commercial and shopping area you can find. The police have only intermittently done anything to chase them away, mostly because the people the bums harass are not Sharon Weston Broome’s voters and therefore their interests are not to be protected.
And anywhere the ordinary folks are known to have ready cash, drugs are easily available and the cops aren’t too harsh on the homeless, especially where the winters are mild, you will shortly find a city awash in bums.
Baton Rouge has panhandlers galore. Get off I-10 or I-12 at just about any interchange below the Perkins Road exit and you’ll almost certainly see disheveled and pouty beggars plying their trade among cars at stoplights bearing cardboard signs advertising brief tales of woe.
This while businesses groan under the strain of jobs unfilled. Baton Rouge has a labor shortage and a surplus of bums.
Nowhere is this more easily seen than at the Seigen Lane exit off I-10, which has become possibly the busiest commercial corridor in the city. But Seigen is now a perfect storm for a swarm of homeless, and law enforcement just isn’t all that interested in doing much about it.
Just north of the commercial development at Seigen and I-10 there’s a sizable forested area. It’s a tailor-made location for homeless camps – the bums can set up their tents within walking distance to the interstate exit and then ply their trade begging from the folks in vehicles stopped at the Seigen stoplight. Then there’s a Waffle House and a few other fast-food places they can get something to eat from, and there’s a ratty motel on the service road where drug dealers sell weed, pills and heroin. There’s even a methodone clinic nearby.
Literally everything a homeless bum could want is right there at Seigen. Lots of marks with money, cheap food to sustain life and a ready supply of drugs to sustain the strung-out lifestyle.
You can’t get much more depressing than this, and it’s happening in what’s supposed to be the nice part of Baton Rouge. Not that the mayor-president’s office seems to care much about that.
Occasionally there will be enough of a stink made about this that the cops will come in and roust out the bums from that wooded area. But it doesn’t last. And they’re now back again.
A new homeless encampment right off Siegen Lane has become a big concern for homeowners in the area.
The Jefferson Terrace subdivision is a well-kept and seemingly quiet neighborhood. Homeowners say that changed a few weeks ago.
“I was outside on my back patio and I could hear hammering, and I realized they were hammering the stakes in the ground to put up the tents,” homeowner Jamie Tarwater said.
Tarwater has been living in Jefferson Terrace for about 13 years. This is the first time a homeless community has set up so close to her home.
“Just knowing that we can see the tents over the fence, I can hear them at night. My neighbor says he hears music.”
This camp site is not in their neighborhood. It’s on the other side of the fence which faces Siegen Lane. District 11 councilwoman Laurie Adams is aware of the situation and she’s called in help.
“We have several homeless prevention teams, ‘HOT’ teams that work with encampments to help individuals who are experiencing homelessness understand what resources are available and how they can access those resources,” Adams said.
Laurie Adams is a dedicated public servant and she’s doing all she can about the problem. But she’s just a Metro Council member. Broome is who can fix this, and Broome honestly doesn’t care.
Here’s the interesting bit: the area in question is not part of the city of Baton Rouge. In fact, it’s part of what will be St. George once the court case established to incorporate that city is finally resolved – we’re pretty sure that once the appellate process is done the trial court judgment stopping the St. George incorporation will be thrown out.
And it’s an almost certain thing that the city government of St. George will take a much harder line on the homeless than Sharon Weston Broome has, something which will make for a major headache for Broome. As mayor-president she’d still be the parish president of East Baton Rouge, but wouldn’t have the kind of power over public policy in St. George that she does now.
And while Laurie Adams would hope that law enforcement would chase the bums out of the woods between Jefferson Terrace and I-10 northwest of Seigen Lane within a week or two when it’s Sharon Weston Broome’s leadership in charge, once St. George has a government results would come within a day of her making a formal complaint.
But we can’t have St. George, says Broome. If that city were to be incorporated it wouldn’t be fair.
Because having the southern part of Baton Rouge inundated with drug-addled hobos and criminal vagrants aggressively demanding the spare bills from the wallets and purses of regular citizens is fair.
Apparently if you want a better quality of life than that, you’ll just have to move out of East Baton Rouge. Sharon Weston Broome isn’t interested in your problems, as the people living, working and shopping near Seigen Lane are painfully aware.