City Announces Plans To Establish A Low Barrier Shelter For The Homeless
NEW ORLEANS – On Monday, October 3, 2016, Mayor Mitch Landrieu joined City officials and local homelessness service providers to announce plans to establish a low barrier shelter for the homeless at 3101 Erato St. The shelter will be available for those in need of immediate housing, particularly for those who have had challenges accessing services. Utilization of a low barrier shelter is considered a national best practice and in line with the City’s Housing First strategy outlined in the City of New Orleans’ Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, commissioned by Mayor Landrieu in 2011, City reps said.
For decades, many local homelessness advocates have called for this type of shelter to ensure unsheltered individuals establish immediate linkages to a safe, clean shelter where they can be connected with service providers and resources to put them back on the path toward permanent housing status. Establishing a low barrier shelter in New Orleans is strongly supported by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, Metropolitan Human Services District, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Catholic Charities, the Harry Thompson Center, HUD, VA, the Louisiana Housing Corporation and many more, City reps said.
“We are committed to cleaning up our streets and helping our homeless residents transition to housing,” Mayor Landrieu said. “The City and over 60 homelessness service providers that make up the Continuum of Care are constantly conducting outreach that is making a real difference in lives of our most vulnerable. Together, we have accomplished major reductions in homelessness, and we were able to effectively end veteran homelessness. We believe this low barrier shelter can become a critical step to better connect our homeless population with the necessary services they need so they can begin the transition back into stable housing.
“Unlike any other city in America, residents of New Orleans know what it is like to be without a home. Indeed, after Hurricane Katrina, many who never thought they would ever be homeless were suddenly left with nothing. That’s why it is important we all come together to continue to make our city better. We will continue to work closely with our committed partners on the City Council, Downtown Development District, the homelessness service providers and this community to make this vital low barrier shelter a reality.”
Since taking office, Mayor Landrieu has been working with over 60 homelessness service providers that make up the Continuum of Care to methodically implement a strategy to help New Orleans’ most vulnerable residents transition off the streets and into safe, permanent housing, City reps said. Since 2010, according to UNITY of Greater New Orleans’ Annual Point in Time survey, the homeless population in New Orleans has been reduced by over 80 percent, from approximately 8,725 homeless people on our streets to now fewer than 1,700 on any given night, which is below pre-Katrina levels.
LOW BARRIER SHELTER A BEST PRACTICE
The cornerstone of the City’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness is establishing New Orleans first low barrier shelter to serve as a front door to local homelessness service providers, City reps said. The shelter will serve those homeless individuals who have been resistant to outreach efforts. It is different from other local homeless shelters in that there are no barriers to entry. For example, sobriety is not required, staff is well trained to deal with difficult personalities, and there is never a fee to stay. It is at this facility where homeless individuals, especially those who reside under the expressway can be effectively engaged, assessed, triaged and sheltered, while case managers pursue permanent housing. Homeless clients staying at the shelter will not be limited by how long they can stay, as it often takes weeks or months for case managers to connect them with permanent housing. With the homeless client at the shelter instead of on the street, this process of finding housing is much easier and faster, City reps said.
For 2016, the Landrieu Administration and New Orleans City Council allocated $1 million to establish a low barrier shelter. The Downtown Development District (DDD) agreed to match this initial allocation and match future funds for operations. At this time the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) is in the process of acquiring 3101 Erato Street to serve as New Orleans’ first low barrier shelter. This location is ideal because it is close to those living under the expressway and in proximity to local homelessness service providers such as Metropolitan Human Services District, Health Care for the Homeless, The Rebuild Center and the VA's Community Resource and Referral Center, City reps said. In addition, this location is centrally located and adjacent to a major RTA bus line.
The City has started extensive community engagement with neighborhood stakeholders on design and programming of the potential facility to ensure it is an asset.
Upon successfully purchasing the property, the City will issue a Request for Proposals to select an operator of the shelter. A nonprofit partner will be selected through a competitive process based on the organization’s experience and proven track record serving the homeless population, City reps said.
The low barrier shelter is envisioned to include 75 – 100 beds with separate areas for men and women ages 18 and up, and offer round-the-clock operations with 24/7 security. Entry to the shelter will be coordinated by UNITY of Greater New Orleans and based upon the homeless client’s specific needs so they can be quickly connected to case managers who will be focused on moving them towards permanent housing. Case managers will be especially focused on the elderly and chronically homeless residing under the expressway. Due to the specific intent of this facility to house the most vulnerable chronically homeless, walk-in entry will be limited and placement into the shelter will be based primarily on UNITY's coordinated entry system which is run out of the Community Resource and Referral Center at 1530 Gravier St.
Staff stationed at or working out of the shelter will include: medical professionals; housing navigators (focused on permanently housing homeless clients); coordinated entry personnel (focused on helping homeless clients access other services); residential monitors with training and 24/7 security personnel. Other services will include mental health counseling provide by Metropolitan Human Services District and other Medicaid billable services through Health Care for the Homeless.
Ongoing operational funding for the low barrier shelter will be split between the City, DDD and others. Cost to the City will be $500,000 – 750,000 annually.
Kurt Weigel, President & CEO of the Downtown Development District, said, “The Downtown Development District is pleased to support the Mayor and City of New Orleans in this critically important project. We are all impacted by homelessness in some way, but none more than those faced with living on the streets. The Low Barrier Shelter is more than emergency housing; it is the front door to a system of care to provide the homeless with permanent homes and the services they need to stay housed. The DDD is proud to help address such a pressing need in our city.”
Martha Kegel, UNITY of Greater New Orleans, said, “UNITY strongly supports the proposal of the Mayor and the Downtown Development District to develop an indoor low barrier shelter as a humanitarian, best-practices approach that will most effectively reduce unsheltered homelessness in our city and will make our community better for everyone.”
Dr. Rochelle Dunham, Executive Director of Metropolitan Human Services District, said, “Metropolitan Human Services District fully supports and is very excited about collaborating to address the myriad of complex behavioral health needs of our homeless population through partnering with the City of New Orleans on the low barrier shelter.”
Nicole Sweazy, Housing Program Administrator with the Louisiana Housing Corporation, said, “Housing is the solution to ending homelessness. This low barrier shelter will provide a path to housing for our most vulnerable citizens.”
Vicki Judice, Executive Director of the Harry Thompson Center, said, “As the Director of the Harry Thompson Center, I see on a daily basis the great need for additional shelter services for the chronically homeless in our downtown community. A low barrier shelter focusing on this population would really help to reduce homelessness in our community.”
Sr. Marjorie, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, said, “Service to the homeless has always been a concern and a priority for service for Catholic Charities. Providing shelter for the homeless is a direct response to our Gospel call. We have spent years talking about a low barrier shelter and are excited that the time has come to make this happen.”
Sr. Beth Mouch, M.S.C., Director of St. Jude Community Center, said, “This is an amazing time for our City. A decision on a low barrier shelter is a perfect example of community involvement. This decision is not something that happened over night but rather it is something that happened over months of dialogue involving many people and organizations. I see this, not as an accomplishment – something the City has done or a resolution or settlement made – but as an image of who we are in New Orleans. We are a people who care about others, about the worth of another and about how we care for the common good of our City.”
Nan Roman, President & CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said, “As the National Alliance to End Homelessness has looked across the country for best practices, it is clear that low barrier, high quality shelter is a key. A first step in ending homelessness is to get people off the streets. It is only then that they can be linked to housing and any treatment they may need, and get back on their feet. Low barrier shelter ensures this will happen, even for the most vulnerable. New Orleans is to be congratulated for taking this important step to end homelessness – for homeless people, for the City, and for the nation.”
CITY’S COMMITMENT TO ENDING HOMELESSNESS
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. As part of its comprehensive plan to end homelessness, the City has launched a series of initiatives and has pledged to work with 63 partner agencies and service providers that make up the Continuum of Care and to collaborate with HUD, VA and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), City reps said.
In 2013, New Orleans reached another milestone when the Community Resource and Referral Center opened in the local VA hospital. The Community Resource and Referral Center serves as a day shelter for the homeless and connects homeless Veterans to case managers and services. The center houses multiple service providers to foster synergy, and it is the first and only resource and referral center in the nation that provides services to Veterans as well as non-veterans, City reps said.
The City also committed HOME funds in 2013 to pay for rental assistance and develop permanent supportive housing for persons who are homeless, and did so in collaboration with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, VA, Housing Authority of New Orleans, and the Downtown Development District. HUD has selected this initiative as one of four National Best Practices Models for ending homelessness.
In July 2016, the City of New Orleans received $800,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to provide housing and mental health services to the city’s homeless population. The grant is supporting the New Orleans Health Department’s newly-developed New Orleans Equity and Inclusion Initiative, which is providing permanent supportive housing services, mental health and substance abuse treatment and recovery services, assistance in obtaining Medicaid and other benefits for 120 individuals who are chronically homeless and another 20 vulnerable homeless families with children. The purpose of the New Orleans Equity and Inclusion Initiative is to end chronic homelessness and family homelessness in New Orleans and reduce the inequities in access to mental health and substance abuse recovery support services for the homeless population, City reps said. The City and its partners are working to meet their goals of ending chronic homelessness for people with disabilities by July 4, 2017, and ending family homelessness by Thanksgiving 2016.
The City is working alongside partners at UNITY of Greater New Orleans, the State, the VA, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, and many others to open several major, new homeless services facilities including: the Community Resource and Referral Center on Gravier Street, permanent supportive housing at the Keller Building and the new Sacred Heart Apartments on Canal Street with more at the Williams Building on Louisiana Avenue. Additionally, the New Orleans Mission is in the midst of a historic renovation using over $3 million in public money.
MAYORS CHALLENGE TO END VETERAN HOMELESS
In June 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness and New Orleans was among the first cities to sign up. On July 4, 2014, Mayor Landrieu accepted the Mayors Challenge at an event at The National World War II Museum announcing New Orleans’ goal of ending Veteran homelessness by the end of 2014, a year ahead of the federal goal. On January 7, 2015, Mayor Landrieu announced New Orleans’ success as the first major city to meet the challenge and end Veteran homelessness, City reps said.
The City of New Orleans defines ending Veteran homelessness as ensuring every homeless Veteran who can be located is placed in permanent housing or in temporary housing with an identified permanent housing placement, City reps said.
To fulfill the Mayors Challenge, the City partnered with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, UNITY of Greater New Orleans, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), the State Office of Community Development, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), and the New Orleans Interagency Council on Homelessness (NOICH). The coalition implemented a local strategy to ensure every Veteran in New Orleans had access to permanent housing and the supportive services they need to sustain their housing status and stay off the street.
As part of the Mayors Challenge, HANO recruited landlords to provide apartments for homeless Veterans. This pipeline, coupled with UNITY HousingLink quickly connected willing landlords to homeless Veterans in need of housing. Federal resources, including Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH), Continuum of Care Permanent Supportive Housing (CoC PSH), Rapid Rehousing (RR), and Housing Choice vouchers, were brought together to ensure the initiative’s sustainability.
To enhance ongoing outreach on the streets and connect Veterans with service providers, the City coordinated with local active duty military and Veterans groups through the Mayor’s Military Advisory Committee. Over several months, about 150 local active duty military and Veterans conducted five Veteran homeless outreach nights trying to locate homeless Veterans and get them off the streets. In addition, these volunteers helped move formerly homeless Veterans into their new homes. This extensive outreach effort created important connections between homeless Veterans and their fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms, City reps said.
According to the HUD 2014 Homeless Point in Time Survey conducted by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, 193 individuals were counted to be homeless Veterans in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. As a part of the Mayors Challenge, Mayor Landrieu put together a coalition of nonprofits, homeless service providers, U.S. service members and Veterans, and federal, state, and local agencies – a coalition that permanently housed 227 homeless Veterans in New Orleans. Since the January 2015 announcement of fulfilling the Mayors Challenge, New Orleans has housed nearly 200 additional veterans bringing the total number to well over 400, City reps said.
Before accepting the Mayors Challenge, the City of New Orleans had already achieved outstanding results on the local level with Veterans’ homelessness, which had dropped 66 percent from 2012 to 2014. In November 2014, the National Alliance to End Homelessness recognized New Orleans for its efforts in helping this vulnerable community as part of its Never Another Homeless Veteran initiative. These results are significant, particularly in a community where Veteran homelessness skyrocketed after Hurricane Katrina, City reps said.