by Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
Posted on September 15, 2010 at 6:13 PM
NEW ORLEANS — A program in New Orleans funded by a federal stimulus grant that’s supposed to get the homeless off the streets has left at least 65 landlords without rent payments for several months.
The bureaucratic backlog to blame could put the formerly homeless back on the streets.
“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I really wouldn’t,” said one of the renters on the program about life on the streets. She didn’t want to be identified.
Four months ago she was on the streets, one of the people in line every night at the New Orleans Mission.
But in April, Odyssey House of Louisiana approached her, saying they would pay her rent while she got back on her feet.
“You give us hope and once we get in a place to try and get ourself better, then we come to find out that our rent is not getting paid,” the renter said.
Tara Watson is her landlord, and said she hasn’t received rent since June.
“It’s very difficult for me because this is how I take care of my family with my rental properties,” she said.
Odyssey House is one of 13 social service agencies providing housing for the homeless. Their program is handled by the umbrella group UNITY.
“I know that they’re very, very frustrated. They’re very angry and they feel betrayed,” said Odyssey House CEO Ed Carlson.
Odyssey House submits monthly invoices for reimbursement from UNITY, according to Carlson, and in turn, UNITY submits them to the city of New Orleans.
But UNITY and Odyssey House haven’t been reimbursed some $260,000, and Carlson said right now, he can’t pay the landlords.
“Right now, we’re literally four months behind on paying people’s rents,” Carlson said.
“I’m a trust but verify kind of guy,” said New Orleans Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant.
He said UNITY just submitted the Odyssey House invoices for June, July and August, something UNITY doesn’t deny.
“Odyssey House is billed about three months behind, and it’s a reimbursement program. It’s not something that we front the money. So, we are currently on the May payments,” Grant said.
According to UNITY, they were waiting for the city to verify what documentation they needed before submitting more invoices, because city workers had gone back and started reviewing those received at the beginning of the year, checking for mistakes.
“If you can assure me that what you’ve submitted is correct, I’ll do everything I can to make sure it’s paid in a timely way, 30 to 45 days,” Grant said.
But Odyssey House said even that is much longer than reimbursements from state or federal agencies. And while all the groups involved in the homeless housing program try to find a better way to handle reimbursements, Watson still isn’t getting paid.
“I’m hoping to get paid,” she said.
And her tenant is just hoping Watson continues being generous about it, so she doesn’t end up back on the streets.
“I pass the mission now and I see the people out there and my heart just goes out for ’em,” the renter said through tears.
The homeless housing program started in January with a federal stimulus grant. All of the $2.5 million has to be used by June of next year, or the money goes back to the federal government.
UNITY is hoping to have a better plan in place to get reimbursements with the city next week.