How New Orleans Ended Veteran Homelessness in Six Months

On January 7, 2015, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that New Orleans had become the first city in the U.S. to end Veteran homelessness. On a recent webinar, staff from the Mayor’s Office, the City’s housing department, the local Continuum of Care (CoC), and the local Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) discussed how the city accomplished this feat.

In June 2014, Michelle Obama helped to launch the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by the end of 2015. Mitch Landrieu is one of the over 500 mayors, governors, and city officials who committed to this challenge. Accepting this challenge did not come with any additional resources or funds, so communities had to be creative and innovative.

New Orleans’ strategy evolved over time, adapting to barriers as they came up. Ultimately, New Orleans became the first city to meet the White House’s challenge, and they did it a full year before the deadline. Below is a brief description of the key components of their success.

Collaboration: Successful implementation took collaboration and support from multiple stakeholders, including USICH, HUD,  the VA, the housing authority, local service providers, local government officials, and local military and veteran organizations.

Example: The team worked with the local VA to check the veteran status of individuals and was able to convince the VA to prioritize these checks. This resulted in a typical 3-4 day process being reduced to just 24 hours or less.

Housing Location: This included negotiating with local housing programs – the housing authority, the CoC, and VASH and SSVF programs – to secure access to housing vouchers, including supportive housing. Networking with landlords was key for securing housing units.

Example: The team worked with the Housing Authority to use turnover vouchers (vouchers that had been given up, revoked, or had expired) to move stable individuals, who no longer needed intensive support services but did need rental assistance, off of supportive housing vouchers (e.g. SSFV or VASH). This freed up supportive housing vouchers for homeless veterans.

Outreach and Community Engagement

The City recruited community members to assist with street and shelter outreach, as well as a source of time, resource, and financial donations.

Example: Current and former military members helped with street and shelter outreach.

Tracking and Sharing Progress: The City used the annual point-in-time count as a motivator and baseline indicator, understanding that the count is imperfect. They also developed a master list of individuals to be housed and provided routine updates.

Example: Weekly update meetings were used to share progress and discuss challenges. This kept the whole team motivated and on the same page.

Every community brings its own unique context, and New Orleans is no exception. Hurricane Katrina brought a sense of urgency to addressing homelessness. The city was “homeless together” after Katrina. The city built on this existing momentum for the Mayors Challenge.

However, the strategies listed above can be adapted and successfully implemented in any community. The panelists offered the following advice for others interested in ending veteran (or any other kind of) homelessness.

  1. Be innovative
  2. Be relentless
  3. Develop strong and complete processes
  4. Ask for help
  5. Have strong leaders at all levels
  6. Have resources secured before you begin

The webinar has been archived on the HUD Exchange.

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead at the National Center

Padgett, Henwood, and Tsemberis Co-Author Upcoming Book on Housing First

A new book about Housing First by Professor Deborah Padgett at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work, co-authored with Benjamin Henwood (USC-Social Work) and Sam Tsemberis (Pathways to Housing, Inc.), will be released this fall.

Cover_HousingFirstHousing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives (Oxford University Press) is the first book to tell the story of this groundbreaking approach. In this book, Housing First (HF) is described as an unusual combination of evidence-based practice, consumer choice, and the right to housing. Authors Padgett, Henwood, and Tsemberis (the founder of Pathways to Housing) trace the history of homelessness in the United States and report on the rise of a “homeless industry” of shelters and transitional housing programs after the 1980s. The HF model challenged the standard ‘staircase’ or linear continuum by not requiring compliance with treatment, sobriety, and ‘housing readiness’ before gaining access to one’s own apartment.

Beginning with its origins in New York City in 1992 with the formation of Pathways to Housing, Inc., the HF approach has quickly spread to cities around the United States, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. Housing First has been unprecedented in its influence on housing policies in the U.S. and abroad and is credited with ending homelessness for veterans in several U.S. cities as well as ending chronic homelessness in the state of Utah. After a five-city experimental trial, HF is now the national policy in Canada. While it has only begun to be applied to families and young adults, HF principles of immediate access to housing, support services, and harm reduction hold promise for engagement and stabilization.

The book summarizes what is known about Housing First, including qualitative findings from the New York Recovery Study led by Padgett and Henwood (funded by the National Institute of Mental Health). In addition to analyzing HF as a source of systems and organizational change, the book features first-person accounts of life after obtaining housing and services. The success of HF has shown that providing immediate access to an apartment and support services to homeless persons with ‘dual diagnoses’ is not only humane but effective.

Blog Post Author: Deborah Padgett, Professor at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work