by Jamie Keene, USICH Communications Intern
Last week New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that his city is on track to become the first in the nation to end homelessness among Veterans. At an Independence Day event honoring those who have served, Mayor Landrieu declared that New Orleans is committed to completing the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness fully one year ahead of the 2015 goal.
In a video message, First Lady Michelle Obama praised the city’s efforts and the Mayor’s leadership. "This is a solvable problem,” she said. “As you work to become the first city in the nation to put an end to all Veteran homelessness I want you to know that my husband and I and this entire Administration stand by your side."
Rates of homelessness increased dramatically in New Orleans following the displacement and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the last two years alone, however, effective collaboration between community partners and local government has reduced Veteran homelessness in New Orleans by 66 percent. Today, 200 Veterans are still experiencing homelessness in the city, but local officials and advocates are confident that they can connect these former service members with the supportive services they need and deserve by the year’s end.
The cause for this confidence is the extensive planning that has already begun. In 2011, local leaders introduced a 10-year plan to prevent and end homelessness that reflects the strategies laid out in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Partnering with USICH, HUD, and VA at the federal level, and with the 63 organizations that form the Continuum of Care at the local level, the plan authorized the creation of the New Orleans Interagency Council on Homelessness, which oversees implementation.
It’s working. In 2013 a coalition of federal, state and local partners exceeded its 100 Day Rapid Results Boot Camp goal of helping 100 Veterans move into safe and stable housing in 100 days. Instead, coalition supported more than 200. Spurred on by these achievements, local partners began the 500 Homes for the Holidays project, a benchmark they surpassed by working alongside more than 500 individuals who moved into stable housing. Recently, partners came together to release New Orleans’s PIT count figures, which showed that the city has reduced overall homelessness by 83 percent since 2007.
These numbers demonstrate the value of cross-systems partnerships. Close collaboration between stakeholders at all levels – including the military – has been a linchpin for the city’s success. Major General David Mize, USMC (Ret.), Chairman of the Mayor's Military Advisory Committee described New Orleans’s response to homelessness as “a unified, committed, and funded consortium of federal, local government, non-profit and private sector organizations.” Now Mayor Landrieu has brought in commanders of active military bases to assist in the effort, as well.
Once the city with the highest rate of homelessness in the country, today New Orleans has reduced homelessness to levels that are lower than before the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. By overcoming incredible challenges, New Orleans has shown that ending chronic and Veteran homelessness is possible in every American city.
Much hard work remains. By setting clear, ambitious goals – like accelerating their commitment to the Mayors Challenge – local leaders and advocates are fueling results. And the determination in New Orleans sets a national precedent for local officials to lead the way in efforts to end homelessness among Veterans. As Mayor Landrieu explained, “New Orleans is now nationally recognized as a model for our efforts in combatting homelessness but there is always more that can be done.”
How can public figures in your community step up and lead the way? Drop us a line.