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City, community put ‘dent’ in homeless statistics

16th September 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Nayita Wilson
Contributing Writer

Ending homelessness in New Orleans may appear to be a mammoth effort, but strategic efforts and the numbers are pointing to a decline in the city’s homeless population, according to city leaders and service providers.

200 Homes in 100 Days was a time-sensitive collaborative housing initiative that sought to identify housing for 200 “chronically” homeless residents between May 24 and September. Partnering entities included: City of New Or­leans, Unity of Greater New Orleans, Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, State of Louisiana, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development New Orleans Field Office and other community organizations.

The partners surpassed their goal.

Martha Kegel, executive director for Unity of Greater New Orleans said, “We’re incredibly gratified that we were able to make such a dent in the tragedy of disabled people having to live long term on the streets. We were able to permanently house 244 chronically homeless people with severe mental and physical disabilities in only 100 days.”

UNITY is a nonprofit organization comprised of 60 organizations that seek to eradicate homelessness. UNITY has been coordinating the tenant-landlord component for years; however, the recent campaign expedited the housing process for some individuals who have been awaiting housing.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the initiative was targeted to individuals who were vulnerable “due to chronic persistent physical and mental health issues, are frequent users of emergency services in order to stabilize them and lower the use of emergency services.”

New Orleans resident Randall Dreher, 57, fit the bill. In August 2010, he got into a bicycling accident, which resulted in a 68-day stay at the Interim Louisiana State University Hospital (Univ­ersity) where he underwent eight surgeries.

The incident brought about drastic lifestyle changes. Upon his release from the hospital, Dreher walked with a cane and was sent to a nursing facility in Harvey, La., to recover. Eventually, he lost his job and home and had to apply for disability.

A transplant from New York, Dreher has lived in New Orleans for 22 years. He said he didn’t have family to help with his condition. So he tried to receive services from UNITY, but he did not meet the eligibility requirements because he hadn’t been homeless for 30 days.

He walked away frustrated with the agency and spent the next few years sleeping at the Ozanam Inn, the New Orleans Mission and on the streets.

This year, he set aside those frustrations and began to work with the UNITY caseworkers who walked him through the process to attain services. On July 31, he signed his lease and received the keys to his new apartment.

“I’m very content with UNITY for taking care of me so quickly,” Dreher said.

The housing initiative relies heavily on landlord participation. Landlords rent at 80 percent of the fair market value or below to avail their properties to individuals in need. The tenant pays a portion of the rent and receives assistance for the remaining balance. UNITY caseworkers serve as intermediaries throughout the process.

Charles Augustine Jr. owns several homes throughout New Orleans and has worked with UNITY to provide housing to more than 100 UNITY clients since 2007. He sees the partnership as a way to fight homelessness, while helping individuals get a fresh start. He credits the caseworkers for working with the tenants beyond their housing needs and for making the partnership successful on all ends.

“The caseworkers that UNITY supplies for them are a great help. We all work together. It’s a collective effort,” Augustine said.

Kegel said that there are hundreds professional outreach and case workers addressing the needs of the homeless population in Greater New Orleans area.

According to UNITY, homelessness in Orleans and Jefferson parishes hit a peak in 2007 when 11,619 people were reported homeless within a period of 24 hours.

That number continues to decline, and recent figures show that 2,419 individuals in Orleans and Jefferson reported being homeless within a 24 hour period in comparison to 2,051 who reported homelessness within that time frame in 2005.

This article originally published in the September 16, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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