Jill Hezeau / Eyewitness News
The numbers are staggering: Officials with the organization UNITY of Greater New Orleans reported the city has one of the highest homeless rates in the country.
Since Hurricane Katrina, the number of people homeless in Orleans and Jefferson parishes has increased by 70 percent. UNITY introduced four initiatives Thursday to try and combat the problem.
Life is much different now for Dianna Alford, who spent three months living under the Claiborne Avenue overpass with her son James.
“Miserable, no coat, out in the rain under the bridge and the bridge leaks,” Dianna Alford said.
She lived on the streets rather than be separated in shelters from her 44-year-old mentally disabled son.
But permanent supportive housing through UNITY has them now living together in a two-bed apartment in Central City.
They are just two of the more than 1000 people the organization has set up in housing since 2008 and Dianna Alford said she is grateful.
“I appreciate everything they have done for me, so thank you so much,” she said.
UNITY officials said through such housing they have decreased homelessness by 12 percent since 2009. But that figure still puts the number of homeless around 9,200 in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
“It’s attributable to the effects of Hurricane Katrina – the loss of so much affordable housing, rents that have skyrocketed, the destruction of extended families and neighborhood infrastructures, to rely on sofas to sleep on when money got tight,” said Martha Kegel, Executive Director of UNITY.
But UNITY said it has a plan to reduce homelessness through federal, state, and local grants, as well as donations.
They kicked off four initiatives with one project, cutting down on some of the city’s blight.
The former assisted living center, Malta Square, was the first of five buildings to be converted into apartments. UNITY said it will house 54 units and is set to be completed by fall of this year.
Officials hope this mixed income, mixed population site will put a dent in the staggering numbers of homeless and take more people like Alford and her son off the streets.
The first of five sites will cost $5.9 million to renovate, officials said.
Other initiatives include a $1 million grant over two years to help house veterans living on the streets.