The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) and UNITY of Greater New Orleans, the nonprofit coordinating the work of 60 organizations serving the homeless, will break ground Saturday, Nov. 10, at 10 a.m. to celebrate the beginning of construction on a mixed-income Permanent Supportive Housing building designed to help solve the problem of chronic homelessness while also providing affordable housing for the city’s workforce. The building, a former assisted living residence foreclosed on after Hurricane Katrina, is located at 2101 Louisiana Avenue in Central City. The ground-breaking ceremony is open to the public.
Read the full press release here.View Post
Homelessness down 58 percent since 2007
Read the full report here.
UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a 20-year-old award-winning nonprofit that coordinates community campaigns to end homelessness, today released the 2012 report, Homelessness in Greater New Orleans: A Report on Progress Toward Ending Homelessness. This research initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is conducted annually through a collaboration of over 50 agencies working to end homelessness.
The Point in Time Count, on which this study is based, was conducted during the 24 hours that began at noon on January 23, 2012. This count included a search of abandoned buildings for signs of habitation as well as in-person surveys of homeless individuals. The report documents the number of individuals, as well as demographic characteristics, who live in temporary homeless shelter or are unsheltered during that 24-hour period.
“We are very encouraged by the progress in reducing homelessness that these data show,“ said Martha Kegel, Executive Director of UNITY. “Low-income people and those with disabilities continue to struggle to find housing in our community, but the situation is getting better and the amount of homelessness continues to decline as our city moves forward with its recovery.” She praised the work of 50 nonprofits in the homeless services collaborative as well as HUD, the city, Jefferson Parish, the state, the housing authorities and Metropolitan Human Services District in working together to fund and implement effectively housing programs for the homeless.
The study found that the number of people in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish who are unsheltered or living in temporary homeless shelter on any given night in 2012—4,903—has decreased 27% from last year’s count and 58 percent since 2007. Still, the 4,903 number remains 2.4 times larger than the pre-Katrina count of 2,051. While this represents an accurate snapshot of one 24-hour period, over the course of a year many more people fall in and climb out of homelessness. The agencies in UNITY’s network have served over 21,600 people meeting the HUD definition of homelessness in 2011, according to UNITY’s Homeless Management Information System.
“There are many factors contributing to the decrease in number from 2011 to 2012,” said Kegel. “These include the City of New Orleans’ massive Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program; expansion of the UNITY collaborative’s work; new Permanent Supportive Housing beds; the permanent rehousing of about 80 persons from the Calliope Street homeless camp; and an increasing supply of affordable rental housing as New Orleans continues to recover from Katrina.”
UNITY of Greater New Orleans is a nonprofit, 501(c) (3) organization founded in 1992. UNITY leads a collaborative of 65 organizations providing housing and services to the homeless.View Post
And he didnt move into the White House. He moved into homelessness.
This Andrew Jackson was honorably discharged as an Army Private after Vietnam. He was awarded four medals in his service to our country.
He returned home after the horror of war.
Already stricken with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time in the service, Mr. Jackson later endured another set of horrors which worsened his condition – his parents drowned in their family home in New Orleans East as a result of the levee failures that followed Hurricane Katrina.
The UNITY Outreach Team found Mr. Jackson living in the destroyed home where his parents tragically died. He was 61 years old, suffering from severe disabilities, and had lived there for years with no lights, water or heat. During those years, he suffered a heart attack, but he still continued to live in subhuman conditions, suffering from further trauma to his already fragile emotional health.
Last year, just before Christmas, UNITY placed Mr. Jackson in his new apartment through a program for homeless people with disabilities. The services and supports he receives through the program help him remain stably and permanently housed.
Now that he is no longer homeless, Mr. Jackson is doing well. He reads his bible, meditates, and socializes with his neighbors. His health has improved, he has friends, and he has the opportunity to starte a life free from the trauma of homelessness, while he continues to heal from the many traumas he has already endured with the ongoing support of UNITY and case managers through UNITY’s partner agencies.
Mr. Jackson’s story is one of many tragedies and injustices that UNITY encounters on a daily basis. Throughout our city on any given night, more than 9,000 people are living with the pain of homelessness.
UNITY works every day to end homelessness for people like Mr. Jackson. Some are veterans. Some are elderly. Some are mothers with young children. All are vulnerable and in need of our help. Will you join us today in creating an end to homelessness for others like Mr. Jackson?
UNITY works to make sure that our neighbors like Mr. Jackson will never know the pain of homelessness again. Your gift today can help us serve many more people who are homeless right now. Click here to make a donation.View Post
UNITY of Greater New Orleans celebrates the release of Mayor Landrieu’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, which UNITY, by virtue of its longstanding role as lead agency for the homeless Continuum of Care and administrator of collaborative grants for permanent and transitional housing and services, will play a large role in helping to implement. At its first meeting with the new administration last year, UNITY requested the creation of a new city plan to end homelessness, as the previous one had been written before Hurricane Katrina caused an unprecedented crisis of homelessness and scarcity of affordable housing and mental health services. The plan released Nov. 28, 2011 has been vetted by national experts at HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, is aligned with a new federal plan to end homelessness adopted last year, and is the culmination of a months-long planning process by the newly established Homeless Services Working Group appointed by the Mayor. Federal Judge Jay Zainey and UNITY board member Jade Brown-Russell co-chaired the Working Group, while UNITY Board Chair Luis Zervigon and Executive Director Martha Kegel served on the Executive Committee. Dozens of UNITY member agencies participated in the planning process, as did members of the business community, university professors, affordable housing developers, and homeless persons.
Mayor Landrieu states of the plan, “Unlike any other city in America, residents of New Orleans know what it is like to be without a home,” said Mayor Landrieu. “After Hurricane Katrina, many who never thought they would ever be homeless were suddenly left with nothing. Unfortunately, on any given night, approximately 6,500 New Orleans residents are without a home including unsheltered individuals, youth and families. This is an urgent issue that demands immediate attention. I’d like to thank our federal partners and our local working group members for coming together to create a workable plan to address this challenge. This Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in the City of New Orleans will lead to an increase in available resources, and will improve coordination and collaboration.”View Post
By Katy Reckdahl, The Times-Picayune
The laid-off nursing assistant with two small children needs only a few months’ rent to stave off homelessness. The mentally ill man who lived with his sister before Hurricane Katrina may require an apartment for the rest of his life, plus someone to check in on him. The 18-year-old who aged out of the state’s foster system shows promise but needs a mentor, job training and stable housing. The city of New Orleans wants to find ways to address the needs, however wide-ranging, of each of these homeless people through a 10-year “plan to end homelessness” that Mayor Mitch Landrieu will announce today.
The 34-page plan is a road map for how the city will address its astronomical homeless population, which more than doubled in the years after Hurricane Katrina and now stands at approximately 6,500, one of the highest in the nation in sheer numbers despite the city’s modest size.
The planning process started last summer after Landrieu hired the city’s first “homelessness czar,” Stacy Horn-Koch. It coupled the work of local panels of homeless advocates, neighborhood leaders and businesspeople with input from national experts. Homeless advocates from other cities brought ideas that are working elsewhere.
Other cities have had success with carefully run “low-barrier” shelters that don’t turn away people who arrive drunk or high or with untreated mental illness. The idea is simply to earn the trust of “service-resistant” homeless people who have learned to keep their guard up. Once they drop their guard, advocates can engage them in a more straightforward way, guiding them to services and housing.
The plan’s other new initiatives include a public-private Homeless Trust through the Greater New Orleans Foundation to finance “innovative and bold initiatives” to serve the city’s homeless, a 24-hour homeless-service center housed at the now-shuttered VA hospital building, and a new partnership between the city and the Downtown Development District to finance street outreach to clear high-traffic areas downtown.
The city also will add nearly 3,000 permanent-housing beds to its current stock along with a few hundred additional shelter beds. And its Office of Community Development will give preferences in its affordable-housing work to developers who commit to serving homeless constituents.
Hundreds of other cities and states have created similar plans to end homelessness, and the federal government released its own plan last year. But it’s been six years since New Orleans wrote such a plan. The result “helps to galvanize the entire community around the tragedy of homelessness, ” said Martha Kegel, who heads up UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a continuum of 60 social-services agencies that work with the homeless.
First, they need a home
Even 25 years ago, few would have broached the idea of ending homelessness. Administrators who ran soup kitchens and shelters tried to keep people comfortable, but they believed that people needed to be “housing-ready” before they could move into their own places, that alcoholics needed to first get sober and mentally ill people needed to take medication regularly. Some shelters still operate that way.
But a few decades ago, researcher Dennis Culhane found that the “chronically homeless,” who have often lived for years on the streets, make up only 10 percent of the homeless population but consume the bulk of services. Culhane, now the head of a University of Pennsylvania social-service lab, found that the chronically homeless ran up annual public-service bills topping $42,000 as they cycled through emergency rooms, jails, courts, hospitals and shelters.
For about $1,000 more, Culhane estimated, the city could place these vulnerable people into government-subsidized apartments, combined with intensive social services. Soon other ground-breaking work created a successful template for what’s now called “Housing First,” which moves even the most ill, vulnerable homeless people into permanent housing.
New Orleans’ proportion of chronically homeless is twice that of other cities, and those are the people who often are seen camped out in public areas. But since Katrina, UNITY agencies and the city have made a significant dent in that population by housing more than 2,000 people who had previously set up bedrolls in the city’s abandoned buildings and within large squalid camps in Duncan Plaza, underneath Interstate 10 at Canal Street and, most recently, under the Pontchartrain Expressway.
Most advocates and government officials now believe that what the homeless most need is housing. Other problems, no matter how large, are best addressed once someone has a roof over his head. “Housing, and the availability of affordable housing, is the ultimate solution to homelessness, ” the city’s plan declares.
Family homelessness has been increasing in recent years, and so the city’s plan, like the federal plan it mirrors, specifies steps to address that growing group, a casualty of the national recession.
“The chronic homeless are basically recession-proof,” said Don Thompson, who runs the Harry Tompson Center for the homeless at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Tulane Avenue. “But any uptick you see in families is almost always going to be due to the economy.”
Nationally, at some point during each year, up to 10 percent of all poor people become homeless, according to the Urban Institute. That revolving door may be busier in New Orleans because of its high poverty rate.
One of the challenges acknowledged by the city’s plan is tracking people and coordinating those resources to better combat homelessness at its earlier stages — before, as Horn-Koch says, they become the “most vulnerable.”
Horn-Koch previously led Covenant House New Orleans, a facility for homeless youth, where she saw children delivered by state foster-care workers days before their 18th birthday, when the state is no longer responsible for their care. So she knows first-hand the need for the plan’s emphasis on “discharge planning,” which ensures that people leaving hospitals, prisons and foster care exit to a stable home, not the streets. Other cities have found that 60 percent of those in homeless shelters came directly from some sort of institution: a hospital or the foster and correctional systems.
In recent years, New Orleans has made significant inroads into homelessness, using $9 million of federal stimulus money along with a special set-aside from Road Home money designed to help low-wage families struggling to pay high post-Katrina rents. Between the two pots of money, nearly 4,000 households, most of them working-poor families, were able to stay in their homes because the city helped them pay a few months’ rent, a damage deposit or light bill.
Although that money is spent, the city plan predicts it will continue its homeless-prevention work, helping an average of 600 families a year. How it will be financed is unclear. Without the prevention money, the current system is largely focused on very ill, chronically homeless people.
UNITY street-outreach workers use a questionnaire that tests for a range of high-risk factors. Using scores from the “vulnerability index,” the agency ranks everyone. People who are most likely to die without housing receive the highest priority for the agency’s limited supply of government-subsidized housing accompanied by ongoing social services.
But a growing number of people who have lived on the streets of New Orleans for more than a year are not severely disabled and as a result “will never score high enough on the vulnerability index” to get housed, Horn-Koch said. And without a stable place to sleep and bathe, it’s nearly impossible for even able-bodied people to find work, she said. As a result, some will stay homeless for too long, becoming more ill and dysfunctional.
Thompson said that he, too, believes an expansion of services makes sense if the ultimate goal is to end all homelessness. He’s hopeful about the new plan, but he also worries that, without considerably expanded resources, the vision could become a system that elbows out some of the most ill.
Katy Reckdahl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3396.View Post
It had been a long day and night as we scratched off a rather substantial list of abandoned buildings, musty underpasses and urine soaked doorways on our clipboard. We’re rubbing our tired eyes and cautiously monitoring the digital clock on the dashboard that’s progressing slowly past midnight. We were winding down, slogging our way toward our 2 AM version of the quitting whistle.
“Damn! I forgot! You know that guy who sleeps in the lawyer’s courtyard? I got to show you something that’s been on my mind.”
By now, my co-workers have learned my little quirks and idiosyncracies. You can’t spend the amount of time together that we do without understanding each other. Either through collaborative respect or personnel management, they indulge me. Sadly, they also know I’m going to do whatever I want anyway and that I tend to get a second wind when the moon rises high in the sky.
Without lifting an eyebrow, Travers bites. “Sure. Whatcha thinking?” He can tell this is going to be the start of some flight of fancy.
“It’s been on my mind for a little bit. Let me show you something.” I explain.
Really, it has been on my mind since 2008, when the authorities pulled the body out. In January of that year, construction workers demolishing an old housing development discovered a severely decomposed corpse in an upstairs apartment. There were the tangible signs of squatting: dirty clothing, old food containers, a cooler. The only problem was there was no identification. Initially, the authorities could not even identify the gender of the rotted body. As the report says, “Estimated date of death: 3 months to three years prior, skeletal remains.”
I kept an eye on the case. As anyone in social services knows, everyone has a story, a history, a name and a family. In a city that celebrates death with second lines and all-night drinking binges, I fully recognize that no one dies alone, except those without a name. It’s bothered me for several years.
The database is called NAMUS — the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. It’s the final resting place for the anonymous dead. When the proper authorities are unable to locate the next of kin or the circumstances of death prove too challenging, the case is entered into this grim database. I keep an eye on it periodically, continuously hoping we might be able to shed some light on the darkest details of one’s demise.
As this gentleman was clearly homeless when he died, it seemed possible that we might know him. The good people at the LSU Repository for Unidentified and Missing Persons took the time to complete a digital post-mortem facial reconstruction. The re-created face was familiar and I remember the gentleman well. He was tall but hunched over, a description matching the autopsy’s finding of a degenerative bone disease in his spine. I remember him being quite mentally ill, disorganized, and a little paranoid. Somewhere in our dozen file cabinets is a lengthy assessment, the information needed to lift this man from anonymity. However, I got nothing. For the life of me I can’t even remember what letter his name begins with.
“So what are you saying? The guy’s not dead? What’s it got to do with my lawyer’s guy?” Travers asks.
“I’m saying he looks exactly like him. They could be brothers! Easily!” I plead.
Travers remains unimpressed so I print up the photo. We go directly to the doorway where the man is sleeping.
The problem with the guy in the doorway is he wants nothing to do with us. He’s deeply paranoid, distrustful and requires a little relationship building. That’s fine and good, but I want a name or something I can work with. But most importantly, I want to convince my co-workers that they’re related.
As Travers starts his rap about housing and being of general assistance, I’m holding up a digital copy of a dead guy. Travers’ eyes dance between the horizontal homeless guy and a piece of 8 x 11 copy paper. I know he agrees when he starts to smile.
Knowing that mental illness has a highly genetic component and that it’s not unusual to have siblings on the street, we have an interesting lead.
But it all starts with a name.View Post
A little over six years ago, as our city was destroyed by flood, most New Orleanians experienced homelessness. Those of us who were lucky rebuilt our lives piece by piece, heartened by the kindness and generosity of strangers.
We now have the unique opportunity to pay that generosity forward and help those most in need of rebuilding their lives!
Over the past year, UNITY and its member organizations have rescued many homeless persons who were living in the Calliope homeless camp in Central City New Orleans. UNITY has already placed more than 65 camp residents in permanent housing and we’re working to place another 70 persons as quickly as possible. Although their struggle to survive is no longer visible, they desperately need our support to begin a new life. With your help, we can make sure they have the basics to get started in their new apartments – a bed, a table, dishes, cleaning supplies – and food to sustain them while they get back on their feet.
UNITY is working day and night to permanently end the homelessness of the people who lived in the camp. People like Lamar…a young man with AIDS and Cerebral Palsy whose extreme disabilities have caused his homelessness.
We know from experience that ending homelessness requires a community-wide effort. With your help, in an eight month period from 2007-2008, we successfully housed 452 persons from two-large scale homeless camps in downtown New Orleans. The vast majority of those persons remain housed today. Together, we transformed lives and we have the opportunity to do so again.
We need you to help today by providing food and water, as well as basic supplies for their new home — simple necessities like a new bed, linens, and simple housewares.
For more information, please contact UNITY at (504) 821-4496. You can also donate by clicking here.
Thank you for your support!View Post
In south Louisiana, we don’t worry too much about not having enough water. Too much water? Well that is many totally different stories for another day. But not having enough water? That thought rarely even crosses most New Orleanians’ minds…
The overpasses and the oaks were dripping after the 30-minute afternoon cloudburst. The spray from the road made a background hiss to harmonize with the bass thumping of the wipers.
“Hey, why don’t you pull over right there.” More a strong suggestion than a question. Signal, pull right, and slide into a parking place amid a curb filled with barely-working vehicles.
We looked upon the weathered, two-storied used-to-be-salmon-colored home with the sides caving in, and the water dripping off all sides irrespective of the rusted-out gutters. We have passed this abandoned house several times this month as we worked with multiple people in the neighborhood, but have never really had the time to look inside.
On this day we were running a few minutes early (this never happens) to meet with a client, so we had a few minutes leeway. Without speaking, I went to the front then left side of the building, Travers went to the right side, and Mike made a beeline toward the back. Travers and I tried our respective sides to no avail and waited to hear Mike’s boisterous voice from the rear of the property. No Mike and no sound. We headed to the back of the building.
As we turned the final corner, we were surprised to view, through a dripping willow, a gaping opening in what was left of the rear wall of the house. Within this fissure Mike was speaking with an older gentleman. Mike’s softest voice met the man’s incredibly soft voice tone for tone.
Mr. Michaels is his name.
Mr. Michaels had lived inside this gaping-holed, caved-walled, extremely dilapidated building for over three years. He spent each and every day riding his bike throughout the city, crawling under houses and slogging through alleyways collecting aluminum cans and scrap metal. With a voice so gentle that you had to lean in to hear, Mr. Michaels shared something with me that I never really thought about:
Mr. Michaels explained that a person needs at least one gallon of water a day to survive. If you live in an abandoned building with no running water, that means you need to buy your drinking water. At $1.45 a gallon – the best price at the stores within bike distance from his home – this is almost $44 a month! That’s a lot of aluminum cans! Even if he did get food stamps (which he didn’t) I quickly realized that water alone would account for almost a quarter of his monthly stamps.
It was with great joy that several weeks later during a light morning rain I found myself driving Mr. Michaels and Michele Jackson, a UNITY Housing Specialist, to look at possible apartments. The first apartment we saw would not have passed the strict standards necessary for UNITY to rent, but the second one was perfect!
Within the neighborhood that Mr. Michaels selected, the apartment was a neat half double, with a small sliver of yard out back where Mr. Michaels could attach a hose to water the 12 tomato plants that he hadn’t even dared to mention he wanted because he was so scared he wouldn’t have the space or access to water.
But best of all – in Mr. Michael’s misting eyes – the small, tidy apartment had a large kitchen sink where he could quench his thirst at any hour, and a large bathtub where he could soak his weary bones in gallons and gallons of hot water each night. Every night.View Post
When I first landed in The Crescent City I used to work at a bar on South Peters Street. It was in the Warehouse District before the area became an address or a destination; before the condos, boutique hotels and art galleries. Back in 1998, the neighborhood was a hodgepodge collection of vacant cotton warehouses, abandoned row houses formerly holding the offices of river shipping moguls long past expired, and The Big Easy’s version of Skid Row. Sure the neighborhood had impinging gentrification. A few years earlier another transplanted northerner, Emeril Lagasse, hung his own shingle a few blocks away and single-handedly invented the genre of celebrity chef. It was a dicey real estate speculation at the time, a world class eatery casting shadows over the street dwelling denizens of New Orleans.
Mr. Sullivan was no customer, but he was a regular. As a baby faced 18 year-old pulling the graveyard shift dispensing libations and brews to the service industry crowd, I had bigger concerns than the guy who slept out back by the dumpster. As I pushed my last inebriate out the front door, twisted a hundred year old door locked and un-capped my first beer of the night, Mr. Sullivan moved his cardboard into the doorway. With a wave and a nod, Mr. Sullivan did his version of a door stop. With the sun peeking rays over the city and the birds chirping their chorus greetings from the trees, I would quietly finish my duties of stocking beer, cleaning glasses and counting money. Leaving through the back, I would occasionally slide a sandwich or go-box of food to the gentleman now soundly asleep across my front door. This went on for several years.
I’ve always liked this time. It’s the temporal ambiguity, the point when you don’t know if it’s night or day. It’s when the avenues are deserted; street lights are on but unnecessary, the red horizon promising to explode into light. I’d peddle my bike uptown, sometimes catching breakfast before my morning classes at Tulane and other times headed for a blissful and well-deserved morning sleep.
When I left the joint on South Peters, I didn’t stop tending bar. I just moved around the corner to another watering hole. I didn’t stop seeing Mr. Sullivan either. Years went by. I graduated Tulane, re-enrolled, picked up a master’s, Katrina, post-Katrina, had a child, bought a house, etc. The neighborhood changed and evolved. We got older. Mr. Sullivan’s short hair is now dusting gray and his friendly face is worn and weathered. I feel it too, having surrendered to the grey strays that poke through my now unshaven former baby face.
We ran into Mr. Sullivan a few weeks ago. He was hobbled from a fall, a fluorescent pink cast enclosing a broken ankle. It was time. It’s been time.
I was expecting a little more push back from my co-workers to get him approved. Apparently they were moved by me and Mr. Sullivan’s intertwined biographies. He got the keys to his apartment last week.
It’s a little bitter sweet though. 13 years is a long time to darken a doorway and I can’t help but feel it shouldn’t have taken so long to get this man off the streets. It kind of seems like that solitary ride through that time when you can’t tell whether it’s the end of a long night or the start of a new day. I guess you kind of have to embrace the ambiguity of the job, of time and, perhaps, of life.View Post
The long-anticipated Homeless Resource Directory is finally here! Comprehensive contact information for programs providing housing and/or services to persons who are homeless or at risk of homeless are included . Homeless services and programs are dynamic in nature so please submit any Directory updates, revisions or additions to the UNITY Director of Information and Referral, Cynthia Mitchell at email@example.com. Click here to access the directory.View Post