By Mike Miller, UNITY’s director of supportive-housing placement
There is one simple vindication for all the daily frustrations of being an outreach worker — the disjointed, the systems of broken systems, the personal ravages of the street of those living on it.
This last blog of the year pays homage to all the empty doorways, benches and abandoned buildings throughout New Orleans — places that were once home to some of our hardest-to-house homeless people.
This year, we decimated our “ Tenacious Ten” list – those people who have, sometimes for years, resisted our best efforts to house them.
We still have our holdouts, but it’s time to celebrate our successes:
• The empty doorway above represents four years of collective outreach. The elderly gentleman who called these bricks home was so paranoid it took two years just to get his name. There weren’t any neighbors advocating for him and the surrounding businesses never took stock of the old man and his tattered blanket. The only people aware of his feral existence was our group of outreach workers and the occasional late-working lawyer of the law office he slept in front of.
He’s now housed.
• In front of a fast food restaurant serving thousands daily on one of the busiest streets of New Orleans, an elderly woman sat stoic in a dingy festival chair. In her late xities, she refused all placements– emergency, transitional, family re-unification and otherwise. Five years of freeze plans, a few hurricanes (graciously weathered in the nearby corner bar) and the brutal humidity of New Orleans summers barely dented her over-dressed resolve for street habitation.
Through luck, timing and focus; she too is housed.
• Another case was the developmentally disabled man who roamed the hospital district in secondhand suits until finally collapsing in exhaustion in front of a heat grate outside a shuttered VA hospital.
The morning waitresses of a famed 24-hour dinner get the assist on this one. His 15-year odyssey of chain-smoking and block cutting ended when they wouldn’t give him his morning eggs anymore until he worked with UNITY. Sometimes it takes a village (and an admirable Western Omelet).
• Another highlight was the 68 year-old man, wrists covered in hospital bracelets and pants caked with feces. His 15-year jaunt with vascular dementia, Mad Dog 20/20 and leaving hospitals AMA (Against Medical Advice) ended when outreach convinced a clinic doctor that he really needed a nursing home. After a brief, 15-hour day sitting in the firm plastic chairs of the urgent care clinic in the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans, his homelessness ended with the incomprehensible signature of a disinterested and reluctant internal medicine specialist. Not done with passion or conviction. But housed.
I’ve always said that the moment a chronically homeless client gets their keys is anti-climatic. Usually, a client takes the keys, walks around the apartment, mutters an intangible thank you and then you leave. The glossy photos of cute clients smiling joyfully and holding their new keys are few and far between.
Returning to your cluttered and over-crowded office carved out of a utility closet, you flick the dried mouse turds off your desk and wonder want just happened. Years of rapport building, advocating, collecting mountains of documentation and case-planning abruptly end. You move onto your next client.
Sometimes, the only thing you have to show for your work is one more empty doorway. Honestly, that’s more than enough.View Post
By Mike Miller, UNITY’s director of supportive-housing placement
Sometimes I have trouble explaining what I do for a living. When I say I work with the homeless, people often search for an appropriate response.
Usually I get: “So what exactly does that mean?”
Or sometimes: “Some people don’t really want help, right?”
People in our community confront homelessness daily as they traverse their daily routines of work, school, and home. I have no doubt that everyone wants to do something, to acknowledge the humanity sprawled on the sidewalk or huddled under a tattered blanket. Sometimes we give a dollar or two. Sometimes we lie and say we don’t have any change. In a country of so much privilege, we wonder how someone can fall so low and become so desperate.
Yeah, I’m a social worker. Often I’m also a psychotherapist, a substance abuse counselor, a realtor, a pharmacist, a taxi driver, an EMT, a parole officer. Sometimes even a cop. Mostly, though, I’m just a nephew, brother, or grandson.
The picture above is my Uncle Jesse. He’s not my literal uncle, that’s just his name. He’s been Uncle Jesse since I found him sleeping under a wharf outside the French Quarter or on his wet piece of cardboard behind the ferry terminal. He was Uncle Jesse when we visited him in the hospital, stood next to him in homeless court, and introduced him to his new landlord.
We’ve been a lot to Uncle Jesse; a blog post can’t do the work justice. I just hope a picture will do.
The “before” picture on the top is my old friend the day we started assessing him and beginning the process of housing him. The “after” pictures, below, show Uncle Jesse and me standing outside his apartment, at the moment he was told he would get his disability from Social Security. The “after” pictures represent six months of work, dozens of appointments, mountains of paperwork and connections to services. Most importantly, these pictures are proof of the healing power of a home.
What I do is not about homelessness. It’s about working with our sickest, most vulnerable brothers and sisters. That’s how we end homelessness.
New Times-Picayune story by Laura Maggi about the dissolved Pontchartrain camp
About 55 people who had been staying under the Pontchartrain Expressway were told they must leave the area and moved into shelters early Friday morning. People were evaluated with the goal of eventually moving them into permanent housing, city officials said.
This spot under the highway, near the intersection of Calliope and Baronne Streets, has been a regular congregation point for the homeless. In late October last year, the city moved more than 100 people into shelters and “respite housing.”
Read the full story here.View Post
We never lose. Sometimes it just takes us a while to win.
It’s the same tired refrain I often use when a long week has thoroughly kicked my ass, leaving me contemplating my career ambitions and wondering if full-time bartender would be a more fulfilling vocation. Peeling off a dingy, sweat-stained yellow outreach shirt and tearing the steel-toed boots off my swollen feet, I cracked the first beer of an always short weekend and tally the win-loss record.
My lovely girlfriend asks how the week was as we softly rock on our porch swing, watching the daily pressures of New Orleans fade into the heavy humidity of a Friday evening. She knows when and what to ask. Most of it is rehashing 3 AM pillow talk as I crawled into bed after night outreach. She already knows if I won. There was no question last week.
It didn’t matter that when I was searching an abandoned building for signs of homeless squatters, three hornet stings left my forearm a bright red swatch of sandpaper. It didn’t matter that eight hours spent driving to and from Southeast Louisiana State Mental Hospital, tacked onto middle-of-the-night outreach work, twice shattered any concept of my circadian rhythms. I ain’t worried about any of that. My Miller Lite tasted especially cold and pleasing last Friday. My sad, pathetic seven-year post-Katrina waltz with Ms. Gwendolyn and a shattered mental health system finally ended. The music stopped. The proof is the bronze key for apartment #223 stamped “DO NOT COPY.” First thing we did was go get a copy.
Ms. Gwen got her pad, her crib, her new digs. The sad schizophrenic woman who has a tendency to wear a gold-painted baby shoe dangling off a loose pony-tail and prefers to scream hyper-spiritual chants at passing motorists and pedestrians warning of impending damnation … is finally housed. She is currently a medicated, charming and politically insightful lady who happens to have a twenty-year history of homelessness. Who knew that the biblical verses she wrote in permanent marker up and down her legs would come off after a couple of showers?
Yeah, the outreach team never loses. Sometimes it just takes us a while to win. For that, we deserve another cold one. Seven years is a long time to keep a celebratory beer on the ice. Knock another off the Tenacious Ten list of homeless outreach clients most resistant to housing. It’s been a hell of a summer.
On Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 11am Johnnie Suer became the first tenant in a brand-new, 60-unit building at Tulane Avenue and Galvez Street–The Rosa F. Keller Building. This building, owned by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, is the New Orleans’ first mixed-income Permanent Supportive Housing building for the homeless.
Read the full Times-Picayune article here.View Post
Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS — Homelessness is on the rise across the country, with the number of homeless kids up by 33 percent over the last three years.
Those statistics are part of a study released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, which also ranks Louisiana as the third worst state when it comes to homeless kids.
“Four of them share this room and I would love to get them some bunkbeds and things like that for their room,” said Haley, giving a tour of her unfurnished new home. Right now, air mattresses serve as beds.
Four days ago, life was very different for this family. They had no roof over their head and no place to call home.
“A lot of my friends they didn’t even know I was homeless. I didn’t want to put that burden on them and I knew I had to stand up for myself,” said Haley.
The entire seven-member family was living in an Isuzu Trooper with their dog, Angel.
“My eldest daughter slept in the front with me and the rest of them slept in the back,” said Haley, describing the close quarters.
Her daughter Willnika remembers what it was like sleeping next to her brothers and sisters in the cramped SUV for almost two months.
“It was hot, and I was thirsty and hungry,” said Willnika.
Her mother said she left an abusive relationship in Dallas and moved back home to New Orleans.
However, Haley said she was greeted by skyrocketing rental prices, one of the after effects of Hurricane Katrina. Unable to pay $1000 a month in rent, Haley said she was forced to move her family onto the street.
“I told them, we’re sleeping in the car. We’re homeless, and we’ve gotta keep faith in God,” said Haley.
“We’re finding everyone from various walks of life who are now experiencing homelessness,” said Katy Quigley with UNITY of Greater New Orleans.
The agency says the Haley family is just a small piece of a bigger homelessness puzzle that unfortunately includes kids.
“It’s so sad to get calls from social workers every day talking about families who are in their schools, who don’t have a place to sleep that night or are getting evicted,” said Quigley.
“Now I feel better. We’ve got stuff to eat, and we got water and juice,” said Willnika about moving into a house.
As for Haley and her young kids, turning to UNITY for help now means this mom can breathe a sigh of relief just in time for the holidays.
“Its a blessing because its like really my first happy Christmas. My children don’t have toys or anything but I thank God for being in a home,” added Haley who has plans to start nursing school in January.
The National Center On Family Homelessness estimates that 1 in every 45 American kids are homeless.
UNITY of Greater New Orleans says there were 3,000 homeless kids in the metro area in 2010.
“People think because you dress a certain way or act a certain way, you don’t be homeless, but truly you be homeless,” said Natasia Haley, who spent Tuesday night reading with her kids after they arrived home from school.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
Contributor: FOX8LIVE.COM STAFF Email: email@example.com
Print Story Published: 11/28 9:48 pm
Share Updated: 11/28 11:26 pm
New Orleans — On the day New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and UNITY of Greater New Orleans announced a 10-year plan to end homelessness, 25-year-old mother of three small children Trineshea Melton said she has been living the homeless nightmare since returning to New Orleans, post-Katrina.
“I should’ve stayed in Memphis. At least I had a house there, everything I needed. Now I’m asking why,” Melton said.
Melton works and goes to school. She said she and her children were recently evicted. With threats of freezing temperatures looming, she needs shelter for her family. But the city’s shelters are filled to capacity and she has no money.
“Maybe we’ll just sleep in the car. Thankfully I have gas. It’s just so hard because I work and go to school, I do my best with everything I do to take care of my children. Rent is just so expensive and money is so low,” Melton explained.
Salvation Army Director of Social Services Karen Jackson says her organization offers three free nights, but can only house 210 people. “We try to take as many people as we can. We currently are full. However, we try to make space for additional people if we do have the space. All the facilities for women and children are full,” she said.
UNITY Executive Director Martha Kegel said over 50,000 units of affordable housing were destroyed by Katrina. As a result, New Orleans now has one of the largest populations of unsheltered homeless in the nation.
“On any given night in New Orleans, there are over 5200 unsheltered people, mostly living in abandoned buildings but really living in every neighborhood,” Kegel said.
Kegel said the number of homeless doubled after Katrina. “Why this plan is so needed now is because we’re seeing an end to Katrina funds, we’re seeing an end to federal stimulus funds that were helping with the situation by providing short-term rent assistance for example,” she explained.
This effort has to be collaborative, according to Kegel. She said government, the faith-based community, the business sector, non-profits, and private citizens must work together in order to beat homelessness for good.
“We’re gonna need churches to help with shelter, we’re gonna need regular everyday citizens to help with furnishings, dishes, plates, things that homeless people need to get started in a new apartment,” she said.
For Melton the mayor’s long-term goals leave little comfort. “The next ten years, why can’t we do it now? Why do we have to wait?” Melton asked.
Kegel said they have a solution, but homelessness can’t be solved overnight. “Housing is the solution. Permanent housing, coupled with services targeted to that person’s needs,” she said.View Post