Mayor Landrieu: veteran homelessness virtually eliminated in New Orleans

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Mayor Mitch Landrieu says New Orleans has ended veteran homelessness. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu says New Orleans has ended veteran homelessness.

From inside the National World War II Museum’s U.S. Freedom Pavilion Jan. 7, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that New Orleans has made good on its promise to First Lady Michelle Obama’s challenge to U.S. mayors to end homelessness among military veterans — the city, with a massive partnership effort with federal, state and local agencies, housed 227 homeless veterans in 2014. (The nationwide challenge is to eradicate veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.) “We leaned in,” Landrieu said.

The plan is a part of Landrieu’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, announced in 2011. The city partnered with homeless advocacy group Unity of Greater New Orleans, Volunteers of America and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other groups to meet that goal.

“It’s shocking that people who risked their lives for us would be reduced to foraging for food on the street, using the sidewalk as their pillow,” said Unity director Martha Kegel. “The mayor had to right that wrong immediately. … Now the challenge is keeping veteran homelessness at a functional zero.”

That “functional zero” represents a system in place to determine how many veterans in New Orleans are homeless and to use a “housing first” approach that helps get them into temporary housing before they move through the system for permanent housing. The VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families short-term rental assistance program partnered with HUD’s VA Supportive Housing program to make 200 Section 8 housing vouchers available to veterans. The city, Unity, VA and Catholic Charities also opened the mixed-income Sacred Heart Apartments on Canal Street last month, where several chronically homeless people have moved in.

“You never really end veteran homelessness. It takes daily work to keep it at a zero. A veteran can become homeless tomorrow,” Landrieu’s policy advisor Sam Joel told Gambit, adding that more than 100 active duty military and veterans supplement Unity, Volunteers of America and the VA to perform daily outreach and regular sweeps to identify homeless veterans. That “zero” includes veterans still on the street but in the process of receiving housing.

“If you’ve served even one day in the military, we consider you a veteran,” Joel said. “Any veteran we can locate we have housed.”

Joel said nine people refused housing, though the agencies still are working with them. The city collected 250 documented outreach attempts for one veteran before getting him off the street, Joel explained. “It’s a process,” he said.

One man, Michael Washington, has become the face of the city’s efforts. Washington stood alongside Landrieu at the Jan. 7 ceremony. He later stood outside the building away from the crowd (he told Gambit he’s an introvert and not used to the attention). Washington has experienced homelessness on and off for 20 years. “It’s been more on than off,” he said. Washington — a former U.S. Air Force reservist — most recently lived out of a car. He now lives in an apartment in the Williams Building on Louisiana Avenue. (Washington also was the face of that building’s reopening last September.)

According to Unity's 2014 point-in-time survey of homeless people in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, there were 1,981 homeless people on March 31: 818 were unsheltered, and 597 were in emergency shelters. Unity's report counted a 15 percent drop from its 2013 snapshot of 2,337 people, and an 83 percent drop from 2007's 11,619 people.

In 2013, the New Orleans Mission entered more than 2,500 people into the Homeless Management Information System, a database shared by the Mission, Ozanam Inn and the Salvation Army shelters.


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