New Orleans is the first U.S. city to declare it has virtually ended veteran homelessness. At the National World War II Museum's U.S. Freedom Pavilion Jan. 7, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that New Orleans has made good on its promise to First Lady Michelle Obama's challenge to U.S. mayors to end homelessness among military veterans.
Thanks to a comprehensive partnership effort with federal, state and local agencies, the city housed 227 homeless veterans in 2014. The nationwide challenge is to eradicate veteran homelessness by the end of this year.
"We leaned in," Landrieu said. "We have achieved that promise."
The plan is part of Landrieu's 10-year program to end homelessness, announced in 2011. The city partnered with homeless advocacy group Unity of Greater New Orleans, Volunteers of America and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other groups to meet that goal.
"It's shocking that people who risked their lives for us would be reduced to foraging for food on the street, using the sidewalk as their pillow," said Unity Director Martha Kegel. "The mayor had to right that wrong immediately. ... Now the challenge is keeping veteran homelessness at a functional zero."
That "functional zero" represents a system in place to determine how many veterans in New Orleans are homeless and to use a "housing first" approach that helps get them into temporary housing before they move through the system for permanent housing. The VA's Supportive Services for Veteran Families short-term rental assistance program partnered with HUD's VA Supportive Housing program to make 200 Section 8 housing vouchers available to veterans. The city, Unity, the VA and Catholic Charities also opened the mixed-income Sacred Heart Apartments on Canal Street last month, where several chronically homeless people have moved in.
"You never really end veteran home- lessness. It takes daily work to keep it at a zero. A veteran can become home-less tomorrow," Landrieu policy advisor Sam Joel told Gambit, adding that more than 100 active-duty military and veterans supplement Unity, Volunteers of America and the VA to perform daily outreach and regular sweeps to identify homeless veterans. That "zero" includes veterans still on the street but in the process of receiving housing.
"If you've served even one day in the military, we consider you a veteran," Joel said. "Any veteran we can locate we have housed."