UNITY of Greater New Orleans is a nonprofit organization leading a collaborative of over 60 agencies providing housing and services to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Our mission is to coordinate community partnerships to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness.
The collaborative’s work has been especially vital since Hurricane Katrina, after which the city’s homeless population exploded to five times what it had been before the storm. Still today, the storm’s effects linger and the city’s homeless rate remains high, especially among those who are disabled.
The collaborative’s work is nationally known for being able to significantly reduce homelessness despite tight resources. In 2007 and 2008, UNITY and its agencies rehoused 452 residents from two sprawling homeless camps in the center of the city, an effort widely heralded for its bold and compassionate approach. In 2010, UNITY was named the outstanding nonprofit in homelessness– among 9,000 such organizations nationally – by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the leader in the field.
UNITY’s effectiveness is rooted in strong programs. In addition to its PSH initiative, UNITY 1) conducts outreach on the streets and in abandoned buildings to rescue and re-house homeless individuals with the greatest needs; 2) helps low-income renters citywide find affordable housing; and 3) coordinates a network of member agencies that house and provide services to homeless individuals. We raise funds for housing and services, train member organizations on best practices, and oversee their performance in assisting clients to become housed and employed.
UNITY was founded in 1992 following an intensive six-month strategic-planning process that brought together for the first time New Orleans homeless-service providers, government partners, business leaders and homeless people. With initial funding from the state of Louisiana, the city of New Orleans, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, United Way, The Alliance for Human Services and the Business Council, UNITY was formed as a community-wide system to coordinate a vast array of programs and services to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness in Orleans Parish and neighboring Jefferson Parish.
UNITY is one of the oldest and most successful collaborative organizations in New Orleans and has received key awards from the public and private sector including the John J. Gunther “Blue Ribbon” Award for Organizational Excellence from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a Managing for Excellence award from the Greater New Orleans Foundation and recognition for excellence from the state of Louisiana’s Office of Community Planning.
In 1995, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros cited UNITY as “a unique partnership organization in New Orleans” bringing together public, private, and nonprofit sectors to provide “a seamless web of housing, services and job training.”
As HUD’s designated continuum of care for the New Orleans area, UNITY prepares and coordinates the region’s HUD application for McKinney-Vento funds for homeless housing and services. The continuum of care includes nonprofit housing and service providers, governmental partners, public-housing agencies, community and faith-based organizations, charter and district schools, police and sheriff’s departments, landlords, business owners, and persons who have experienced homelessness.
After Katrina, UNITY began a Permanent Supportive Housing initiative to house the most fragile homeless people. At its root, the initiative is life-saving, because research shows that homeless people die, on average, 30 years earlier than people who are housed.
The initiative’s first structure, The Rosa F. Keller Building on Tulane Avenue near downtown, provides 60 affordable apartments to an income-integrated population, with 30 apartments for low-wage workers and 30 for formerly homeless persons, who receive crucial on-site case-management services. Since the building opened in 2012, 100 percent of its formerly homeless resident have stayed stably housed.
A second income-integrated building opened in late 2013 at 2101 Louisiana Ave. in the Central City neighborhood. UNITY also owns two small supportive-housing buildings with a total of 18 units and a multi-use building on Baronne Street in Central City that houses UNITY’s acclaimed outreach and housing-placement team, transitional family housing, and a safe haven for women.
In 2013, The Rosa F. Keller Building was one of only six structures honored worldwide – only three within the United States – by the prestigious Social Economic Environmental Design awards for design in the public interest. Jurors said that the building “served a critical need in the community,” and that “the socio-economic benefits of this project are immense and the design product provides dignity.”
In 2014, UNITY, the City of New Orleans and the local Veterans Administration were honored by the National Alliance to End Homelessness for their accomplishments in reducing veteran homelessness. In partnership with Mayor Landrieu and his City Hall team, the VA, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, Supportive Services for Veteran Families providers and the CoC agencies, UNITY coordinated the implementation of the successful effort to make New Orleans by Jan. 2, 2015, the first city to reach a “functional zero” in veteran homelessness by permanently housing its veterans. Since Jan. 2, UNITY has maintained the “functional zero” through the hard work of creating and coordinating a Rapid Response for Homeless veterans system, in which all veterans who because of poverty or disability are pitched into homelessness are permanently housed within an average of 30 days, unless they choose to enter a longterm recovery program. Since Jan. 2, the collaborative has permanently housed an additional 137 homeless veterans and done so within an average of 28 days.
Using the same model, early next year we will be rolling out a strategic plan to reach a functional zero in family homelessness by Thanksgiving 2016, end long-term homelessness of people with disabilities by 4th of July 2017, reach a functional zero in youth homelessness by 2019, and reduce street homelessness by 75 percent by 2020.