NEW ORLEANS,LA - Today, UNITY of Greater New Orleans announced that homelessness in Orleans and Jefferson parishes dropped 15 percent over the past year. Chronic homelessness dropped even further, by 30 percent, according to UNITY, a collaborative of more than 60 agencies working to prevent and solve homelessness in the two parishes.
"Today's announcement is another sign that we are making a real difference in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. "In 2011, the City announced a Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness and created the New Orleans Interagency Council on Homelessness to oversee its implementation. Together with UNITY of Greater New Orleans and the 63 partner agencies and service providers that make up the Continuum of Care, we are connecting homeless individuals and families with the essential services they need to put them back on the path towards stable, permanent housing and prosperity. Through our combined efforts, we have reduced homelessness in New Orleans to pre-Katrina levels, a significant achievement that gives us momentum as we continue this work into the future."
Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the leader in the field of homelessness services, hailed the "spectacular reductions" in homelessness. Roman noted that the work in New Orleans is helping create a national model for effective street outreach, engagement and re-housing. National, state, nonprofit and local partners also said they were encouraged by the data.
Brad Sweazy, Chief Operations Officer for the Louisiana Housing Corporation also spoke. "One of the core missions of the Louisiana Housing Corporation is ensuring that everyone who lives in Louisiana has access to safe and sustainable housing," said Sweazy, who emphasized that ending homelessness - "not managing, addressing, or working on, but ending" - homelessness is one of the agency's biggest concerns. "The Shelter Plus Care program allows us to work on the core needs of chronically homeless individuals so that they can successfully transition into safe permanent housing," he said. "I am thrilled to join our partners today in celebrating the progress we've made in reducing homeless. We pledge to continue to support efforts to end the problem completely."
UNITY announced the new data today in front of a sunny St. Claude neighborhood apartment rented by UNITY client Barry Knox, 59, a chronically homeless 9th Ward native with lung disease who was sleeping under a raised section of Claiborne Avenue until he was housed in December. Other clients present at the event included Jerry Buster, 56, who had been sleeping in the Calliope camp, suffers from leukemia, is in line for a bone-marrow transplant, and needed to be housed before doctors could ensure that his recovery would be sanitary and successful.
Chronically homeless people, who are both disabled and have been homeless for more than a year, represent a distinct subset - 22 percent - of the city's overall homeless population. They often suffer from severe mental illness that causes them to resist housing and use public services at high levels. UNITY and its partners have focused on housing increasing numbers of chronically homeless people in recent years, following the lead of federal plans, which have prioritized the elimination of chronic homelessness.
As a result, the New Orleans partners have reduced the numbers of chronically homeless and vulnerable people by 85 percent over the past four years. Last month, the New Orleans team pledged to eliminate chronic homelessness in the city by the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina next year.
UNITY's newest numbers, announced today, are the result of the federally mandated Point in Time count, which provides an annual snapshot of people who are homeless on one given night. Through interviews conducted on the streets of Orleans and Jefferson as well as in shelters, service-centers and
abandoned buildings, UNITY determined that 1,981 people were homeless on that one night, March 31, 2014. That is a drop of more than 15% from last year's snapshot, which was 2,337, and a drop of 83 percent from the 2007 count of 11,619, after the post-Katrina explosion of homelessness.
Other homeless subpopulations also were reduced over the past year, according to the 2014 Point in Time count: homeless children (under 18) decreased by 38%, the number of families dropped by 17%, and veterans by nearly 43 percent.
This year's count also marks another milestone, since it is 3 percent lower than UNITY's 2005, pre-katrina Point in Time count. "We have still got lots of work to do, but we're thrilled to see dramatic progress," said UNITY executive director Martha J. Kegel. “It’s confirmation that the techniques
we’re using are working.”