Via The New Orleans Times-Picayune
As Jason Walker makes his way from the bus stop on Canal Street to his job at Harrah’s Hotel, evidence of the wealth created by the hospitality and tourism industry is all around.
He walks through the shadows of towering hotels. Eager tourists board buses bound for swamp tours and plantation excursions. Tchotchke shops, despite the early hour, are already doing a brisk business plying gumbo-jazz-voodoo-Cajun kitsch.
Business seems to be booming everywhere but in Walker’s pocketbook. A houseman, he works as a bottom-rung gofer, stripping beds and running errands. He earns $10 an hour, although he’s had more than four years in the business. “My bank account stays on overdraft,” he joked.
Walker has had other jobs, but he always seemed to come back to working in the tourism trade. “That’s what was hiring,” he said, plus, it fit his personality.
Thin, with glasses that give him a bookish look, he exudes the kind of laid-back charm that helped New Orleans attract 9.28 million visitors in 2013, making it one of the top tourism destinations in the country.
Yet Walker has struggled to piece together a living in New Orleans’ biggest industry. At one point, he said, he was working jobs at two hotels in the Central Business District. Still, he couldn’t afford rent and became homeless. He slept in the break room at one of the hotels when he could. Sometimes he spent the night at the bus station. Since his mom moved back to town – her house was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina – he has lived with her.