Expanded Homeless Services Announced At Old VA Hospital

NEW ORLEANS – Today, Mayor Mitch Landrieu in partnership with the Downtown Development District (DDD), State and Federal officials and local service providers announced plans to expand homeless services at the former Veterans Affairs hospital located at 1530 Gravier St.

         The expansion will include 100 new overnight shelter beds on the floor above the Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC), which serves as a homeless day shelter.  The expanded, comprehensive facility will allow low barriers to entry, including no admission fee or sobriety test, longer length of stay and 24/7 access.

         “Today’s announcement allows us to deliver on our promise to expand services and reduce barriers that prevent the homeless in our city from accessing care,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “Last year, 44 homeless people died on our streets and many more struggle to get the care they need. That is why 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 additional overnight shelter beds established directly adjacent to services already available at the Community Resource and Referral Center at the VA can be critical as we seek to connect even more homeless to the necessary services they need to get into stable housing.

          “Unlike any other city in America, residents of New Orleans know what it is like to be without a home,” said Mayor Landrieu. “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 are all impacted by homelessness in some way, but none more than those faced with living on the streets," said Kurt Weigle, president and CEO of the Downtown Development District. "To address the homeless problem downtown we need additional services in the downtown area. So the expansion of low barrier shelter beds at the Community Resource and Referral Center is about more than just emergency housing; it is about creating a front door to a system of care to provide the homeless with permanent homes and the services they need to stay housed.”

         “I am very happy that New Orleans is making a step forward to encourage the homeless and to help them move into permanent housing,” said former homeless resident David Johnson. “I am really excited for this to come to reality because it is has been something we’ve been talking about and working on for a while. I just want to thank the Mayor for focusing on this problem.”

         The CRRC was established in 2013 as a partnership between the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System (SLVHCS) and the City of New Orleans as part of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. There are an estimated 1,000 visits per week to the CRRC. Currently, a dozen homeless service providers operate out of the facility during day time hours. The addition of overnight services will help ensure that those most in need will not slip through the cracks of the homeless services system, city reps said.

         For decades, many local homeless advocates have called for an expansion in overnight beds with reduced barriers to entry and greater connectivity to services like those available at the CRRC. The goal is to ensure homeless individuals can establish immediate linkages to services which can help put them back on the path toward permanent housing, city reps said.

         The city considered more than a dozen potential shelter locations throughout the city. The former VA hospital has always been a top prospect.  Due to an improved timeline for transfer of the building back to city control, proximity to the homeless population and service providers, and with input from partners and stakeholders, the former VA hospital proved to be the best location to deliver expanded homeless services in New Orleans at this time, city reps said.

         The expansion of the existing CRRC is strongly supported by many organizations including, Southeast Louisiana Veterans Heath Care System (SLVHCS), UNITY of Greater New Orleans, Metropolitan Human Services District, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Catholic Charities, Covenant House, Travelers Aid of GNO, the Harry Thompson Center, Ozanam Inn, The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs and the Louisiana Housing Corporation.

         The Landrieu Administration and New Orleans City Council allocated $1.5 million for 2017 to establish additional overnight shelter bed capacity. The DDD agreed to provide another $1 million to this initial allocation and match future funds for operations.

         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.

         A robust, well-trained 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, city reps said. Other services will include linkages to behavioral health counseling provided 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 $750,000 annually.

         “Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System (SLVHCS) wants to recognize and acknowledge the work of the Mayor’s office in its plan to create an indoor shelter in downtown at the Community Resource and Referral Center," said Fernando Rivera, VA Medical Center Director. "‚ÄčThis will not only assist the City of New Orleans maintain functional zero for Veteran homelessness, but also directly assist in reducing homelessness for all citizens.”

         “UNITY strongly supports the proposal to develop an indoor low barrier shelter adjacent to the Community Resource and Referral Center as a humanitarian, best-practices approach that will most effectively reduce unsheltered homelessness in our city and will make our community better for everyone,” said Martha Kegel, executive director, UNITY of Greater New Orleans.

         "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,” said Dr. Rochelle Dunham, executive director of Metropolitan Human Services District.

         “Housing is the solution to ending homelessness. Adding low barrier shelter beds to the Community Resource and Referral Center will provide a path to housing for our most vulnerable citizens,” said Nicole Sweazy, Housing Program administrator with the Louisiana Housing Corporation.

         Councilmember-At-Large Jason Rogers Williams said, “I deeply appreciate all the partners who came together to make this project possible. The low barrier shelter is a proven model and a crucial addition to New Orleans in the effort to serve our homeless population. With this new service to connect those who need it to stable housing, we will be better able to assist one of our most vulnerable populations.”

         District A Councilmember Susan G. Guidry said, "This is a major step forward for our city and our citizens.  Co-location of services gives these vulnerable people in our community the resources they need to become healthy and productive again and will improve the quality of life of all of our citizens."

         District B Councilmember LaToya Cantrell said, "“This is good news for our homeless residents and for the city in general. The centrally-located site has the capacity to offer assistance to our people while beginning to confront two of the root causes of homelessness: drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness. Plus, the shelter can serve as a front door to services that offer access to permanent housing, jobs, and health care. The creation of a low barrier shelter is an effective strategy and it will improve lives.”

         District C Councilmember Nadine M. Ramsey said, "The low barrier shelter is a critical piece in our efforts to reduce homelessness, poverty and address quality of life issues.  This concept incorporates best practices and has been extremely vetted at all levels of government and in the community.  I am supportive of the city's efforts to move this project forward at the VA hospital site."

         Vicki Judice, Executive Director of the Harry Tompson Center, said “As the Director of the Harry Tompson Center, I see on a daily basis the great need for additional overnight shelter services for the chronically homeless in our downtown community. A new expansion of shelter beds above the Community Resource and Referral Center focusing on this population would really help to reduce homelessness in our community.  It will really make a difference by supplementing the existing emergency services offered at the Rebuild Center and other sites in the 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 by expanding the Community Resource and Referral Center at the old VA.”

         Jim Kelly, Executive Director of Covenant House New Orleans, said “"I believe the former Veteran's Hospital will make an excellent site for the new adult low barrier shelter. Co-locating with the Community Resource and Referral Center will create wonderful synergies leading to a more effective and efficient delivery of services. Adult members of our community who find themselves homeless, and needing a hand-up, will be the true beneficiaries of this public/private partnership."

         Karen Martin, MSW, LCSW, Executive Director of Travelers Aid Society of GNO, said “Travelers Aid stands in full support of the creation of a low barrier shelter in the VA CRRC. The shelter will fill a huge gap in services designed to adequately serve homeless persons with special needs.”

         Clarence Adams, Executive Director, Ozanam Inn, said “As a long-standing member of UNITY of Greater New Orleans, the Continuum of Care working with the homeless, and partner with the City of New Orleans, Ozanam Inn is in full support of the new, low-barrier, shelter being proposed. We applaud the City of New Orleans and their efforts to aide in the support of our homeless citizens. The suggested location, above the CRRC/VA, is ideally situated in an area that has many service providers within walking distance, including the CRRC, which offer vital services to the homeless within our community. Ozanam Inn has been working with the homeless, and under-served, in New Orleans for over 60 years and understands the challenges facing some who are living on the streets or are reluctant to enter into the shelter arena. While the homeless population continues to decrease, the need for a low-barrier shelter is needed more than ever as many shelters are at capacity or cannot accommodate all citizens.”

         Stacy Horn Koch, Chair, New Orleans Interagency Council on Homelessness, Advisor to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Homelessness, said, “I am really proud of the city and the Mayor for making this commitment to the least amongst us. The city and the continuum of care have done extraordinary work and with a facility like this we will be able to get that much closer to ending homelessness for all people.”

         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.”



         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 slightly over 1,600 on any given night, which is below pre-Katrina levels. It took a lot of hard work to achieve that reduction.

         In 2011, the city announced a Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. As part of its comprehensive plan to end homelessness, the city has launched a series of initiatives and has worked with dozens of partner agencies and service providers that make up the local Continuum of Care, along with HUD, VA and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH).

         As a part of that effort, in partnership with UNITY, the State, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) and many others new Permanent Supportive Housing facilities have been opened at the Keller Building and the 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 a mix of public and philanthropic funds. In 2013, New Orleans reached another milestone when the CRRC opened in the local VA hospital. The CRRC 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 was one of the first VA resource and referral center in the nation that provides services to Veterans as well as non-veterans.

         The city has also committed HOME funds 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 won a competitive $800,000 federal 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.



         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.

         To fulfill the Mayors Challenge, the city partnered with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System (SLVHCS), 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), and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), and many different service providers. 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 volunteers 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.

         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 250 additional Veterans bringing the total number of housed Veterans to nearly 500.

          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.


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