New Orleans and Homelessness Tuesday, Jul 23 2013 

The National Alliance to End Homelessness conference is happening this week in Washington and I’ve been following the hashtag #NAEH13 to see what’s new in research and homelessness. Iain de Jong (@OrgCode) posted the following: “New Orleans on track to end chronic homelessness by 2015. Huge high five! #NAEH13”

My first reaction, and my reply tweet to him, was “@OrgCode hmm. I’d be interested to see the research. lose 25% plus of your most at-risk pop’n & have hundreds of bldgs for squatters…”

But I decided to do a bit of research – I am after all a PhD student working at a pan-Canadian research network – before being too hasty. Turns out, there may be some truth to it – at least in terms of how it looks on paper. New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) has made some great strides in ending, or at least reducing, homelessness.

In a post on OneCPDResourceExchange last week entitled “SNAPS Weekly Focus Guest Blog: Working Together to End Homelessness”, Martha Kegel, Executive Director, UNITY of Greater New Orleans and Stacy Horn Koch, Director of Homeless Policy, City of New Orleans discuss the successes of the plan to end homelessness in New Orleans.

The stats about decreases in homelessness certainly present a clear picture of a dramatic increase (after Hurricane Katrina) and a dramatic decrease. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, there were 2,051 homeless people in New Orleans; two years later that number had jumped to 11,619 people. This number has been steadily declining; in 2009 it dropped to 8,725 and then to 4,903 in 2012. Currently, the number stands at 2,337 – a 47% decrease from last year.

As the chart makes it very clear; homelessness is on the decrease and in a big way, in New Orleans. Kegel and Horn Koch state that the key problem was linked to the impacts of Hurricane Katrina “Just a few years ago, New Orleans had one of the nation’s highest rates of chronic homelessness. This distressing phenomenon was largely due to the lingering effects of the Hurricane Katrina levee failures in 2005, which wiped out the city’s stock of affordable housing, shattered the health and behavioral health systems and scattered the extended family and community networks on which so many vulnerable people once relied.”

The success in reducing homelessness lies with the City of New Orleans, UNITY of Greater New Orleans and the 63 agencies who are part of the Continuum of Care. This partnership model is very much in line with what we are constantly promoting here at the Homeless Hub, the need for a “systems response” to ending homelessness. The network of agencies work together to help find solutions –systemic and individual—to homelessness in New Orleans.

This model has led to some incredible successes. Not only has total homelessness been reduced but there has also been a focus on chronic homelessness. This has decreased 85% since 2009 – from 4,579 to 633. Kegel and Horn Koch highlight this and say, “What was unimaginable only a few years ago is now within sight: New Orleans is on track to become one of the first cities to eliminate the long-term homelessness of people with disabilities, in line with the federal plan to end chronic homelessness by 2015.”

This has been noted elsewhere as well. In 2011, Community Solutions (formerly Common Ground) reported that “Despite overwhelming obstacles, New Orleans, a partner in the 100,000 Homes Campaign, now boasts the country’s highest housing placement rate for homeless adults.” This is a clear part of New Orleans’ 10 year plan to end homelessness.

In addition to using the systems approach, NOLA is also being very strategic. They recognize that with thousands of abandoned buildings it’s easy for people to stay hidden if they choose. Outreach teams for UNITY concentrate on abandoned buildings as a way of tracking where people might be living. As this article from nola.com explains the city also captured unspent grants for recovery given to developers and is using them to build housing for homeless people and to provide rent subsidies. It also explains another strategy where “The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority is making 20 of its properties available for the program, offering each to developers for 10 percent of the appraised value or $1,345, whichever is higher.” This helps ensure that unused housing is being fixed up and that people who otherwise might remain homeless are getting housed.

The resources for people who are homeless, marginally housed, living in poverty or otherwise vulnerable in New Orleans is quite extensive. A great directory has been compiled by UNITY and can be found here.

But a few counter points:

  • A study of geographic origin of homeless people in Houston found that nearly 2% were from Louisiana. While the study has some methodological challenges, this is nearly double the percentage from California, the next highest state of origin.
  • An article in The Stranger from Seattle, points out that New Orleans’ rate of homelessness as a percentage of the population remains high compared to elsewhere.
  • The extended family living situation common in New Orleans means that there could be a large number of “hidden homeless” people: those who are doubling up with family and friends.
  • The New York Times Katrina diaspora map reminds us that people were flung far and wide post hurricane. Many of those who faced challenges returning were those with low incomes and other marginalization issues.
  • There were many challenges for people who owned their homes in proving home ownership and right to title because of a casual inheritance system common in New Orleans. While that legislation was modified in 2009, prior to that it resulted in many people being homeless or facing challenges in being re-housed. Post 2009, many people who were homeless because of this policy were able to return home.
  • There are still about 35,000 blighted properties in New Orleans. Even the best outreach teams can’t check every home, every night to make sure no one is sleeping there.

None of this discounts the successes that New Orleans has had. The progress it has made is nothing short of remarkable. But the broad, systemic problem of homelessness persists and it is going to need concentrated effort from many sectors to end it.

This article also appears in the Homeless Hub’s Research Matters blog.

DR 404-12 SWLAFLD Friday, Mar 16 2012 

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Goods removed from a home following the flood.

I’m in a hotel in Scott, Louisiana, a suburb of Lafayette. I drove up this morning to help with the latest disaster to hit Louisiana, what the American Red Cross is calling DR 404-12, (Disaster Relief) SWLAFLD (SouthWest Louisiana Flood). Heavy rains fell overnight Sunday into Monday morning. In some areas – especially in Carencro – there was up to 19 inches of rain and 7 feet of water on the streets. Interestingly enough, there has been very little media coverage about this in the New Orleans area (at least on TV) but supposedly CNN has been covering it. For a great summary please read this.

My last DR (in Vermont in Aug/Sept for Hurricane Irene) was extremely stressful. Already, after just a day of being here I feel like I have done more concrete work; admittedly shelters – especially on the night shift – are very low-key. But it was clear today to see how my contributions were valued and needed.

Today I drove up – left Abita Springs at 6am!! – in time for a morning orientation/update session for the Disaster Assessment and Client Casework volunteers. I spent the morning helping develop sample forms to assist with Client Casework (which starts tomorrow). I was also able to edit materials and double-check data for errors; my writing/editing skills are being put to good use. In the afternoon I attended the Client Casework Training and then organized all the materials and documents caseworkers will need.

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Flooded contents (and possibly vehicle).

It was also determined that I have amazing handwriting skills; really, I just did what my dad does which is to write in block print. It’s clear, easy to read and leaves very little room for confusion. But, nonetheless, I was asked to write up everything from the staffing flowchart to the sample forms to labels.

It was also noted — and my mom and bf should likely put down any drinks so as not to spew their contents in disbelief — that I am incredibly organized. Mom? Joey? Still with me? I think in part it comes from being able to see both the big picture and the little details at the same time. When you concentrate on just one aspect you tend to lose perspective.

Tomorrow I will be going out to do some client casework, and then depending upon demand will likely be doing data entry on Sunday.

Tonight we found out (and I only know because I am rooming with the Client Casework lead) that Red Cross National has approved funding so that Client Assistance Cards (CACs) can be provided to people with major damage (which is usually more than 36 inches of flooding) or those whose housing was completely destroyed. These funds can be used for food, bedding, storage containers, clothing, shoes, diapers etc.

In a future post I will share some thoughts about Environmental Justice and Disasters…but 7am comes very early (especially since my roommate is getting up at 530am!!!). I’ll leave you with an interesting tidbit from the ARC website: “An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.”

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Mylar balloons danced in the wind amongst the debris pulled from a trailer.

FEMA taketh away Wednesday, May 27 2009 

It’s been four years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped through the Gulf Coast leaving millions of Americans homeless. While government response was less than timely, FEMA eventually made provisions to temporarily house the victims in government owned trailers and cottages. Fox News reports FEMA officials will begin to send eviction notices to hurricane survivors in the temporary housing units starting June 1.

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While we were working at our first job site – Rebecca’s house – FEMA officials came to talk to her. She was out, but Amanda, one of our students, gave them the evil eye and sent them on their way. I don’t know if it would have mattered if Rebecca wasn’t out. No way Amanda was going to let FEMA take a trailer away on her watch 🙂

Tanya

Demo day Wednesday, May 6 2009 

Yesterday one of the groups was assigned to demolish a shed. This is the result.

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The shed before demolition.

This is the shed being pulled right down by a truck…

Day 2 of work starts today Tuesday, May 5 2009 

The class finished their first day of work yesterday. One group was starting work on a house – the first volunteers – and with 16 people insulated the entire house in a day. Other than being itchy all went well – in fact, they finished a day earlier than had been expected! The other two groups did equally great work, and the St. Bernard Project was very impressed.

Here is a photo of the class taken on Sunday following our city tour. While it is hard to gauge the height of the building, we are standing on the balcony of a third floor room at our hotel. During Katrina, our feet would have been underwater.

imagine our feet under water

imagine our feet under water