Following Hurricane Katrina, UNITY established the continuum-wide Welcome Home Street Outreach Team in 2006 to address explosion of homelessness in the community – with homelessness doubling from 6,000 persons prior to the storm to an estimated 12,000 thereafter. Based on proven models used in Philadelphia and San Francisco, cities that have had dramatic success in reducing street homelessness, UNITY Welcome Home coordinates street outreach and housing search and placement.
Welcome Home’s first great challenges were two large squalid homeless camps in downtown New Orleans – at Duncan Plaza in the summer and fall of 2007, and the subsequent Claiborne & Canal camp in the first half of 2008. Both camps numbered as many as 300 people per night, and 975 unduplicated individuals were documented by the outreach team. With the outreach team leading the charge, the UNITY collaborative successfully housed 452 persons in an eight month – a nationally unprecedented humanitarian achievement.
Following the closure of the Claiborne & Canal camp, Welcome Home began shifting its attention, through the No One Suffers Alone Abandoned Buildings Outreach Project, to people living in abandoned buildings. This decision was based on data from the Claiborne & Canal camp, from which 64% of survey respondents reported living in abandoned buildings in New Orleans prior to moving to the camps.
Since December 2008, when Welcome Home staff found six men aged 61 to 90 living in an abandoned mechanic’s garage in Central City, abandoned building dwellers have been a regular target for our outreach efforts.
There are 63,326 abandoned addresses in Orleans & Jefferson Parishes (55,291 in New Orleans) as of March 2010 (figures derived from United States Postal Service Data). These range from abandoned homes and apartments, bandoned schools, office buildings, and even hospitals. In the face of grossly unaffordable housing, disabled and elderly people have often turned to these derelict properties as their only option for shelter.
Based on two random-sample surveys conducted by the Welcome Home outreach team, an estimated 3,000 – 6,000 persons call these abandoned buildings home. 87% of abandoned building dwellers encountered by the outreach team have one or more disabling conditions. Finding and housing these abandoned building dwellers is a daunting task faced by the 7 outreach workers of Welcome Home.
Read the Abandoned Buildings Outreach Team’s Report to learn more about the crisis of elderly and disabled Katrina Survivors living in New Orleans’ abandoned buildings.