This week, as Americans return from holiday vacations and settle into a new year, the 71 communities participating in our Zero: 2016 initiative are setting their sights on an ambitious goal: ending veteran homelessness in the next 358 days. In a sign of hope, one community is celebrating that achievement a full year ahead of schedule.
Wednesday morning, New Orleans became the first major city in the country to end veteran homelessness when a final group of veterans moved into the city’s new Sacred Heart Apartments on Canal St. This new 109-unit building, owned and operated by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, now provides 55 units of permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness and an additional 54 units for low-income families. Community Solutions advised UNITY on the development process, and we’re proud of what the building has helped the city achieve.
Since Mayor Mitch Landrieu committed to end veteran homelessness last June, UNITY and its partners have housed 227 formerly homeless veterans, successfully making housing available to every known veteran experiencing homelessness. Drawing innovatively on the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ hugely successful Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF) as a front line resource, the team at UNITY has developed a system that can move every veteran experiencing homelessness in New Orleans off the streets quickly with several months of rental support, while identifying more permanent solutions when necessary. UNITY has also linked together a host of other mainstream resources to ensure that every veteran has a home.
“We found really creative ways to use resources that hadn’t been used for veterans in the past,” said Martha Kegel, Executive Director of Unity. “You have to figure out how to break down barriers to programs and find ways for all of the different federal agencies to work together.” Thats exactly what happened in New Orleans, as mix of federal agencies banded together to help a city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina less than a decade ago become the first community in the nation to reach this milestone.
“HUD, VA and USICH (United States Interagency Council on Homelessness) really got it,” added Kegel.
But it wasn’t just federal assistance and coordination that helped New Orleans reach this milestone.
“Mayor Mitch Landrieu played a pivotal role in helping to bring all parties to the table and got folks focused on the target population,” said Kegel. The city also helped recruit 150 former and active duty members of the military to help with outreach, enhancing the community’s ability to search for veterans experiencing homelessness.
In its journey toward zero, New Orleans benefited from key learnings it gained as a founding participant in our 100,000 Homes Campaign, which announced in June of last year that it had helped communities house more than 105,000 homeless Americans in under four years. Those lessons included the creation and constant upkeep of a by-name list of all veterans experiencing homelessness and new ways to use data for performance management. The city also took huge steps over the course of the Campaign to prioritize its most vulnerable and chronically homeless residents for its permanent supportive housing stock.
The city also developed innovative strategies that other cities are now moving to adopt, including engaging the local business community and bringing local veterans out on the streets with outreach teams to build bridges with their peers experiencing homelessness.
Now that housing has been made available to all veterans experiencing homelessness in New Orleans, the team at UNITY has set up failsafe system to connect any veterans who may find themselves on the streets in the future with housing within 30 days of discovery, ensuring that no veteran will fall into long-term homelessness again.
“New Orleans has developed a system built for zero,” said Beth Sandor, Director of Zero: 2016. “This is a model of success for other communities across the nation to follow.”
For more information on New Orleans’ efforts to end homelessness, visit http://unitygno.org/.