The city of New Orleans has come a long way in the nine or so years since the surging waters of Hurricane Katrina devastated large swaths of the city and displaced more than 400,000 of its residents. Before Katrina, a little more than 2,000 people experienced homelessness on a given night. By 2007, that number swelled to more than 11,500.
After Hurricane Katrina, homelessness skyrocketed in New Orleans as a result of the destruction of much of the housing stock and the disappearance of jobs. But in the intervening years, through incredible work by leaders in that community and others around the country, the number of people living on the streets, in shelters, and in abandoned buildings has declined significantly.
As of January 2014, the number people in Jefferson and Orleans parishes who experience homelessness on a given night had declined to 1,981 people. The homeless service system in New Orleans has become a national model for street outreach, landlord outreach, targeting of permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, and other strategies for fighting homelessness.
Last week the city reached a new and historic milestone when Mayor Landrieu announced that New Orleans had ended homelessness among veterans. Ending veteran homelessness is, of course, a major goal of “Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.” Under Opening Doors, the benchmark date set for ending veteran homelessness is the end of 2015.
Here at the Alliance, we love solid research on homelessness. Strong studies of homeless populations give our policy team and our advocates the ammunition they need to make compelling arguments to lawmakers about the necessity of support for homeless persons.
But homeless populations arguably are one of the most difficult populations to study, because they are often transient, lack consistent contact information, and may not want to identify themselves as homeless. For this reason, one of the most valuable types of research on homelessness is actually research about research.
Confused? Allow me to explain. The value of research is dependent on the way researchers go about conducting it (i.e. its methodology). The better the methodology of the research, the more useful the researcher’s findings will be, both for policymakers and other researchers. So it’s really important that researchers develop strong methodologies.
With this goal in mind, many researchers are actually studying methodologies themselves, instead of studying particular populations. In other words: rather than studying homeless youth themselves, researchers might examine the best methods to study homeless youth. That way, they and other researchers will have solid methodologies on which to base future studies of homeless youth.
With today’s guest blog post, we would like to introduce you to five homeless assistance professionals who spent several weeks learning about homeless assistance practices in England. They traveled there as participants in the Transatlantic Practice Exchange program, which was coordinated jointly by the Alliance and Homeless Link and generously funded by the Oak Foundation. This post provides just a quick look at what they learned. For more detail, please check out their reports on the Alliance website.
The second session of the 113th Congress started out unusually, under a continuing resolution, or stopgap funding measure, to avert a government shutdown. This foreshadowed the rest of the year, during which congressional activity could be described as dysfunctional, unproductive, partisan, and chocked-full of manufactured crises.
In this context, 2014 was a challenging year in which advocates for homeless assistance programs fought an uphill battle. However, this did not keep homeless advocates across the country from drawing attention to the need for increased federal funding for vital homeless assistance programs in their communities. In light of the considerable challenges they faced, homeless advocates achieved some impressive gains in 2014.
In early March, the FY 2015 federal funding process commenced on an optimistic note with the release of President Obama’s Budget Proposal, which included various provisions favorable to people experiencing homelessness, among them a proposed $301 million increase for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. While some lawmakers expressed hope that appropriations bills would pass in a timely manner, partisan divides prevailed and gridlock soon set in.
New Orleans Mayor Mitche Landrieu announced today that his city has effectively ended homelessness among veterans by housing 227 veterans in 2014 and ensuring that all veterans who become homeless will be housed within an average of 30 days. This is a big deal. More than anything, it shows that it can be done: communities really can end veteran homelessness.
So you’re probably asking, "How did they do it?" The Alliance released a Community Snapshot today detailing some of the initiatives New Orleans undertook to address the issue. New Orleans' strategy includes aggressive outreach tactics on the street and in shelters, assigning housing navigators to each veteran, and bringing together key partners to ensure that each one had a stake in bringing an end to veteran homelessness.
New Orleans was already making serious progress in reducing homelessness. From 2007 to 2014, the city achieve an 83 percent reduction. And the city's housing providers, led by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, already had a lot of housing knowhow. But it wasn’t until Mayor Landrieu threw his support behind the initiative in July that the pieces really fell into place. As part of the First Lady’s Mayors Challenge, Mayor Landrieu committed his city to ending veteran homelessness – not by the end of 2015, the federal goal, but by the end of 2014.