Fox News' Bill O'Reilly baselessly suggested that a homeless encampment under an overpass in New Orleans that former Sen. John Edwards mentioned in a speech did not exist, saying, "[W]e called the Edwards campaign and asked where exactly is that bridge so we could help those people. Apparently, they don't know or they wouldn't tell us. The Edwards campaign can't pinpoint the bridge." Numerous media outlets have reported recently on a large encampment of homeless people under an overpass in downtown New Orleans.
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On the January 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly repeatedly mocked a portion of former Sen. John Edwards' (D-NC) speech earlier that day, in which Edwards announced his withdrawal from the 2008 presidential race. In his speech, Edwards stated: "I want to say to everyone here, on the way here today, we passed under a bridge that carried the interstate where 100 to 200 homeless Americans sleep every night. And we stopped, we got out, we went in and spoke to them." Responding to Edwards' remarks, O'Reilly repeatedly suggested this homeless community did not exist, saying: "[W]e called the Edwards campaign and asked where exactly is that bridge so we could help those people. Apparently, they don't know or they wouldn't tell us. The Edwards campaign can't pinpoint the bridge." O'Reilly later stated to guest and Democratic strategist Kiki McLean: "Just tell me where the bridge is. We will help those people. They can't tell me ... Kiki, all you need to do is tell me where the bridge is, Juan [Williams, NPR correspondent and Fox News contributor] and I will go out there and we'll help those folks. OK?"
In recent weeks, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Associated Press, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have reported that a large encampment of homeless people has formed under an Interstate 10 overpass in downtown New Orleans.
O'Reilly has repeatedly attacked Edwards' January 3 claim that "tonight, 200,000 men and women who wore our uniform proudly and served this country courageously as veterans will go to sleep under bridges and on grates." O'Reilly previously stated that Edwards "has no clue" and "[t]he only thing sleeping under a bridge is that guy's brain."
In his January 30 speech, Edwards stated:
Now, I've spoken to both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. They have both pledged to me and more importantly through me to America, that they will make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency.
And more importantly, they have pledged to me that as President of the United States they will make ending poverty and economic inequality central to their Presidency. This is the cause of my life and I now have their commitment to engage in this cause.
And I want to say to everyone here, on the way here today, we passed under a bridge that carried the interstate where 100 to 200 homeless Americans sleep every night. And we stopped, we got out, we went in and spoke to them.
There was a minister there who comes every morning and feeds the homeless out of her own pocket. She said she has no money left in her bank account, she struggles to be able to do it, but she knows it's the moral, just and right thing to do. And I spoke to some of the people who were there and as I was leaving, one woman said to me, "You won't forget us, will you? Promise me you won't forget us." Well, I say to her and I say to all of those who are struggling in this country, we will never forget you. We will fight for you. We will stand up for you.
On January 11, the Times-Picayune published an article on a "homeless encampment" under an interstate overpass near Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. The article reported that, shortly after "nonprofit and government entities ... last month moved to find shelter for roughly 250 members of a homeless colony that had taken over Duncan Plaza, across from City Hall," a "homeless encampment of similar size ... blossomed a few blocks away, in a paved Claiborne Avenue neutral ground beneath Interstate 10." The paper reported: "City Councilwoman Stacy Head, whose district includes the Claiborne Avenue encampment, said a Wednesday night count by her staff found 247 people staying beneath the overpass. She said there were no children at the site and about 90 percent of the people were men." A January 1 Times-Picayune article had noted the sudden appearance of homeless at this location, reporting: "They almost appeared overnight, these long rows of tents, pitched along a fenceline just off South Claiborne Avenue and Cleveland Street, not far from the shuttered Charity Hospital." Further, a January 3 AP article also reported on the existence of the Claiborne Avenue homeless "encampment":
They have huddled in abandoned buildings, been chased from the doorstep of City Hall, and, if lucky, spent a night in one of the few shelters that Hurricane Katrina spared.
Now, many of the homeless of New Orleans are freezing under a stretch of interstate that is their latest encampment in the city.
Uncommonly frigid temperatures prompted emergency officials to enact a "freeze plan" on New Year's Eve, allowing the remaining facilities for the homeless to set up as many cots as they can safely hold. Similar action was taken on Christmas Eve. The current plan is expected to continue through Thursday.
But despite the emergency measure, about 70 people have remained under an elevated stretch known as the Claiborne Avenue bridge, cocooned in blankets, sleeping bags and the pup-tents that have become the calling card of a homeless epidemic here.
The homeless assistance group UNITY of New Orleans estimates that skyrocketing rent and a crippling of the support network has caused the homeless population to rise from 6,300 to 12,000 since Katrina.
"It's basically cots in the kitchen that's keeping some from freezing," said David Davis, a program leader at one New Orleans shelter, the Ozanam Inn. "But at some point, there's just not enough beds."
At Ozanam, 32 cots will be added to the 56 beds already available to walk-ins. The stays are limited to 10 nights a year at the facility, a rule imposed so no one person receives more help than another in the resource-strapped city.
George Blackmon said a similar rule at another shelter drove him to Claiborne Avenue, and its oil-stained island under the superstructure of Interstate 10. On warm nights, about 120 homeless people squat along a five block stretch underneath the concrete. There are about 40 pup-tents along the stretch, but many live in the open air on mattresses, sleeping bags and blankets.
"This is the worst place I've ever been," said Blackmon, 43, as he rifled through spare clothing that a local assistance group had dropped off. Without a tent, he said staying there Tuesday night "was like sleeping in a wind tunnel."
The previous focal point for the homeless was Duncan Plaza in front of City Hall, the first compound to see the tents which the homeless purchased from a local Wal-Mart. The homeless people who lived there were forced to make way for the demolition of an adjacent state office building that was damaged by Katrina. UNITY found 250 of them temporary housing, but many simply migrated from the plaza to Claiborne Avenue.
On January 18, the Post-Intelligencer reported on the unscheduled stop the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics made at a "homeless community," where the team offered "food to the homeless who have congregated since Hurricane Katrina under New Orleans' busiest freeway." The Sonics were in town for a scheduled basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets. From the Post-Intelligencer:
As the darkness descended on the corner of Canal and Claiborne, and the homeless who occupy the dozens of tents that litter the underpass of Interstate 10 conclude another day of despair, the millionaire basketball coach was in tears.
The emotional P.J. Carlesimo is more known for his growl than his whimper, even to the point where rookie Kevin Durant has mastered an impression of his raspy voice. But there was no harshness in his voice Tuesday night just before he boarded the team bus back to the Ritz Carlton.
There were tears of pain and sadness. Carlesimo and his team spent 45 minutes handing food to the homeless who have congregated since Hurricane Katrina under New Orleans' busiest freeway.
There is an entire homeless community here, and it looked on in shock when the Sonics team bus pulled over on Canal Street and a bevy of tall, muscular men pulled food, water and supplies out of the bottom of the bus and began lining up.
One frail-looking woman walked over and asked where the line started. There was no line. This was no scheduled stop. After his team served those in a substance-abuse rehabilitation center near downtown, Carlesimo wanted to do more. The NBA suggests teams run basketball clinics for those Katrina victims, but the coach didn't believe the New Orleans homeless needed to work on their left-handed dribble. Carlesimo said he wanted to directly help, and the Sonics were the first NBA team to reach out to those in Tent City.
According to numerous reports, since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005, the homeless population in New Orleans has ballooned. On January 23, National Public Radio reported that "since Katrina, the city's homeless population has doubled, according to groups that work with the homeless." The New Orleans Health Department currently reports on its website that "according to service providers' statistics, 17,000 to 19,000 men, women and children in the New Orleans area are homeless."
From the January 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Continuing now with "Campaign '08." Earlier today, John Edwards dropped out of the race, as we said, but he's still on bridge patrol.
EDWARDS [video clip]: I want to say to everyone here, on the way here today, we passed under a bridge that carried the interstate where 100 to 200 homeless Americans sleep every night.
O'REILLY: Now, we called the Edwards campaign and asked where exactly is that bridge so we could help those people. Apparently, they don't know or they wouldn't tell us. The Edwards campaign can't pinpoint the bridge. And John Edwards apparently is not involved in a rescue mission. I know you're shocked.
O'REILLY: Joining us now from Washington with analysis, Fox News guy Juan Williams and Hillary supporter Kiki McLean. All right, we'll get to Edwards in a minute. The guy -- you got to, Kiki, you got to call him and tell him to knock it off with the bridges. He's obsessed with the bridges.
McLEAN: Listen, listen --
O'REILLY: Just tell me where the bridge is. We will help those people. They can't tell me. OK.
McLEAN: You know what? You know what? Whether it's that specific bridge or somewhere else in America, he's right. There are people who are sleeping under a bridge without a roof over their head. And that's the point.
O'REILLY: OK, Kiki, all you need to do is tell me where the bridge is, Juan and I will go out there and we'll help those folks. OK? Now, Kiki, look -- every time Edwards shows up anywhere, it's the bridge, all right? It's a bridge too far. It's the bridge on the River Kwai. It's the bridge -- thank God he's not in the race anymore.