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By Martha J. Kegel
Three months ago, after a campaign led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans became the first major city to effectively end Veteran homelessness. During an intense six-month campaign, community partners connected every Veteran living on the street or in emergency shelter who would accept housing with an apartment of his or her own, with supportive services scaled to the Veteran’s needs. Now we actively work every day to maintain a “functional zero” in Veteran homelessness by housing any newly homeless Veteran within an average of 30 days.
I firmly believe that every community can and should end Veteran homelessness.
Yes, New Orleans had some advantages. For one thing, the local VA and its partners had already achieved a significant reduction in Veteran homelessness before we started the final drive in June 2014. At that point, we had already driven down the number of Veterans suffering in homelessness from 660 in the January 2011 Point-in-Time (PIT) count to 193 in the March 2014 count. For another, we have a very strong visionary leader in Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who set the bold goal of ending Veteran homelessness a full year before the federal deadline, convened the key players, and recruited active duty military and Veteran groups to help with outreach.
But in other important ways we were at a distinct disadvantage: As of the 2014 PIT count, New Orleans still had one of the highest per capita rates of Veteran homelessness in the nation as compared to our general population of only 379,000 residents. We were also at a disadvantage in resources: Compared to many other cities, we have precious few ways to pay for housing and services other than federal funds. And when pushing ourselves to get to zero, we were confronting the challenge of housing those whom we had always failed to connect to housing before – those Veterans who tended to have the most complex challenges and who for the most part were not eligible for HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
The first Veteran’s Supportive Housing project to be located on Native American tribal homelands had its grand opening last month on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation.