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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Landrieu selects old VA hospital for low-barrier homeless shelter

Posted By on Wed, Mar 15, 2017 at 6:05 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
Following debate among city officials and residents over the placement of a proposed low-barrier homeless shelter, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced on March 15 an expansion of homeless services at the former Veterans Affairs hospital on Gravier Street. The expansion is expected to add 100 overnight beds with little or no barrier for entry, including no cost of admission or sobriety test, and 24-hour access.

In 2015, Landrieu announced the city had effectively eliminated homelessness among veterans by using a housing-first model and partnering with a broad group of federal, state and local agencies and nonprofit groups. It has since housed nearly 500 veterans. Landrieu said 44 people experiencing homelessness died in New Orleans last year, and the inclusion of 100 new low-barrier beds — in the same building with nearby health and housing services — "can be critical as we seek to connect even more homeless to the necessary services they need to get into stable housing.”

"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,” Landrieu said in a statement.

Recent efforts to combat homelessness are part of a sweeping 10-year plan first announced in 2011. The city announced plans for a low-barrier shelter last fall, but Landrieu originally pressed for its construction on Erato Street in Central City. Nearby school officials and residents objected to the location, and District B City Councilmember LaToya Cantrell had pushed the city to look for an alternate, including the former Temporary Detention Center on Perdido Street, part of the former jail complex, as well as the VA hospital. Cantrell told Gambit she had been "shut out" of discussions about the location.

"We visited the Erato site and it was considered as a temporary location," she told Gambit last fall. "Unfortunately, after we recommended the Perdido location, we were shut out of the process and then presented with a shortsighted plan that I could not support."

Later that year, the Landrieu administration later began considering two additional sites: Israel Augustine Middle School and the VA. "Our opposition was never about NIMBY, but [the Erato location] was never appropriate for a permanent shelter," Cantrell said in a statement last December. "Because of the limited size, the Erato location would have prevented it from offering many of the critical onsite services — sobering and detoxing center, crisis receiving center, medical evaluation, pharmacy, case management and pathways to housing — that other cities, particularly San Antonio’s 24/7 all-in-one Haven For Hope offer to the homeless population."

According to a city press release, the VA location ultimately was chosen "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 city has budgeted $1.5 million for 2017 to help pay for the shelter, and partnering organization the Downtown Development District will pay an additional $1 million and match funding in the future. Annual costs are expected to be $750,000, paid by the city.

The shelter will be a floor above the existing Community Resource and Referral Center, which also serves as a homeless day shelter, which receives roughly 1,000 visits a week. The center is a partnership with Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System and a dozen care providers, including UNITY of Greater New Orleans and Metropolitan Human Services District, among others.

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