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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New Orleans officials announce construction of low-barrier shelter

Posted By on Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 5:45 PM

click to enlarge A low-barrier shelter in the former VA hospital on Perdido Street is expected to open in April.
  • A low-barrier shelter in the former VA hospital on Perdido Street is expected to open in April.

As New Orleans prepares to implement a freeze plan that demands the city's four homeless shelters open their doors to anyone on the streets, officials announced construction of a low-barrier shelter at the former Veterans Affairs hospital on Gravier Street, where a gutted second floor on a chilly Tuesday afternoon held promise of connecting people experiencing homelessness to an array of services to help them get on their feet.

The 12,000-square-feet, 24-hour shelter will offer 100 beds with little to no barrier for entry, including no admission fees or sobriety tests required for entry. People entering the shelter can also access mental health and substance abuse services, as well as living spaces and office spaces.

Construction and implementation is supported by block grant funding, the Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund (NHIF), the Downtown Development District (DDD), the Louisiana Housing Corporation and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The New Orleans City Council approved $1 million for its construction in 2016, which the DDD matched. The city's annual costs are expected to be $750,000.

Officials said the shelter will be open and services will be online in April.
It's the latest and largest development in the Landrieu administration's ambitious 10-year plan to eradicate homelessness, which saw among its first successes the city's virtual elimination of veteran homelessness in 2014 using a housing-first strategy to help people move from the streets and into stable shelter. Landrieu says the city has since reduced homelessness by 90 percent, "but that 10 percent still represents a large number of individuals."

"We hope today is a step in the right direction to get them the care they so rightfully deserve," he said.

New Orleans nonprofit Start Corporation will operate the shelter, which sits a floor above the VA's existing Community Resource and Referral Center, serving as a "day" shelter among the dozens of service providers within the city's "continuum of care."

Homeless advocate Kevin Wilson, who has experienced homelessness, pressed the importance of shelter services.

"You go many hours on the street without sleep," Wilson said. "You’re very tired, you’re very weary. People judge you, stereotype you, based on your present condition, not realizing we come from many different backgrounds, and not realizing you have decent people on the street with integrity, trying to work their way off the streets to become independent again."
Housing and Urban Development's New Orleans Field Office Director Earl Randall recalled a former U.S. Army platoon leader who had returned from service only to live in a car. "How does that happen?" he said. "What we realize is we need to have at least four corners: we need to have strong education programs for our veterans, we need to have good health care programs. That’s where the VA kicks in. We need to have good plans for shelters, and low barrier shelters like this one. And we need to have employment."

The shelter's genesis began with another location — District B Councilmember and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell had pushed City Hall to seek out other options for the shelter following Landrieu's initial plans to build one in Central City. In 2016, the Landrieu administration considered two additional sites: Israel Augustine Middle School and the VA's hospital. Cantrell wanted a site closer to interconnected service providers; Landrieu agreed. The new site mirrors Haven for Hope in San Antonio, Texas, which offers 24-hour care and connection to case management, health care and other services.

"My commitment is to ensure it not only continues but is sustained in a holistic fashion so we can truly meet people where they are," Cantrell said.

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