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New Orleans receives $800K to combat chronic homelessness

8th August 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Patrick Welch
Contributing Writer

The City of New Orleans has in the last several years touted great success in decreasing its homeless population. Now, the city has been awarded an $800,000 grant to help accomplish its Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, implemented by the Landrieu administration in 2011.

“The City of New Orleans is committed to helping our homeless residents,” Mayor Landrieu promised in a press release announcing the grant. “[This will help] put them back on the path towards stable, permanent housing and prosperity.”

This new grant, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is slated to go toward further housing and mental health services for the city’s homeless populations, particularly veterans, families and, for the first time, non-military individuals.

The funding will also support the Health Department’s newly developed New Orleans Equity and Inclusion Initiative, which provides housing and mental health services plus substance abuse and recovery services, and helps obtain (newly offered) Medicaid and other benefits for chronically homeless people.

“Even with this grant there just isn’t enough to go around for those in need—even those most in need,” said Martha Kegel, executive director of UNITY, the organization which leads the city’s many partners.

This particular grant will go to help 120 individual and an additional 20 homeless families with children.

“Families in New Orleans can currently get temporary, very short term housing,” said Kegel. “The 120 individuals that we will be helping, however, right now they aren’t getting anything at all. But they just can’t sustain themselves, and this grant will provide some of them ongoing rent assistance, coupled with a case manager who will visit you in your home, make sure you’re doing OK, making sure you’re taking your meds and getting to your doctors,” Kegel explained.

In Katrina’s wake, local homeless populations ballooned to over 11,000 individuals and families. That year, UNITY of Greater New Orleans began a Permanent Supportive Housing initiative to house the most needy homeless people. Beginning in 2010, Mayor Landrieu pledged to work with UNITY, which leads the 63 partner agencies and service providers that make up the city’s “Continuum of Care,” including the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), the Metropolitan Human Services District, HUD, the VA and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH).

Landrieu and the city’s partners under UNITY declared that the city would end chronic homelessness for people with disabilities by July 4, 2017, and end family homelessness by this coming Thanks-giving 2016. New Orleans was also among the first cities to sign up for the federal challenge of ending Veteran homelessness by 2015—Landrieu announced success in that department January 7, 2015.

The city and its partners attacked the problem from many angles. In 2012, UNITY re-opened the Rosa F. Keller Building on Tulane Avenue near downtown to provide 60 affordable apartments: 30 apartments for low-wage workers and 30 for formerly homeless persons, who receive crucial on-site case-management services. The next year the Keller Building became one of only six structures honored worldwide by the prestigious Social Economic Environmental Design awards for design in the public interest.

The city also opened the Community Resource and Referral Center in 2013, the first and only resource and referral center in the nation that provides services to veterans as well as non-veterans. The CRRC also serves as a day shelter and place where homeless veterans can meet with case managers. The city also committed HOME funds in 2013 to pay for rental assistance and develop permanent supportive housing for homeless persons.

As a result of these combined efforts and more, since 2010, according to UNITY’s annual Point In Time survey, the homeless population in New Orleans has been reduced from around 5,000 to under 1,700 sleeping on the streets on any given night.

The better the city does combatting homelessness, the more funding it wins. Last March, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the New Orleans area $2.37 million in new grants to fight homelessness. HUD gave $26.8 million to homeless agencies in Louisiana. Then, this past May, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded over $355 million to national homeless programs, with almost $17 million going to Louisiana (of which Unity of Greater New Orleans and its partners received $3.4 million for housing support and case management).

Still, funds run out, so UNITY has structured the initiative’s spending in a sustainable manner.

“The genius of this grant is that it really is allowing us to…provide permanent vouchers. That way those individuals with severe disabilities that prevent their self sufficiency will pay only a third of the rent in apartments throughout the city provided by private landlords. The grant actually pays for the services and case managers who find apartment and handle case management services,” Kegel said.

UNITY’s non-profit partners handling the direct services, se-lected in a competitive process, include Volunteers of American, Crescent Care, National Alliance of Mental Illness, plus Respon-sibility House (handling substance abuse and outpatient counseling) and Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (helping participants enroll in all benefits programs for which they are eligible).

But as reported last year in Gambit Weekly, while the city has touted its progress, a new demographic of young homeless people is growing out of proportion in New Orleans. And of the homeless left on New Orleans’ streets, claims the city’s press release, 65 percent still lack health insurance.

“This is exactly the type of federal support our city needs…to serve the populations that depend on us the most,” said Metropolitan Human Services District Executive and Medical Director, Rochelle Head-Dunham MD of the new $800,000 homeless grant. “Fundamental basic needs like housing and employment must be addressed if we are ever to really help heal our city.”

This article originally published in the August 8, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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