In June 2013, first lady Michelle Obama unveiled her Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, an ambitious program that encourages communities across the country to eliminate veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
New Orleans just became the first major city to make that daunting challenge a reality—a year before the deadline.
Before accepting the challenge, New Orleans was already recognized for its efforts to address veteran homelessness; the city saw a 66-percent decrease from 2012 to 2014. But Mayor Mitch Landrieu wanted to do more, accepted the challenge and vowed “The Big Easy” would meet—and exceed—the first lady’s call to action.
Plagued with an increasing homeless population following one of the worst natural disasters in American history, New Orleans faced and overcame insurmountable odds to accomplish this tremendous goal. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina meant diminished housing availability, escalating rents and unemployment. High numbers of displaced residents— including veterans—returned to the city to find themselves out in the streets.
The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness program encourages partnerships among government, nonprofit and private sectors, resulting in a coordinated effort that leverages services and skills that best serve veterans. The program requires a system to identify homeless veterans, a housing-first approach that removes barriers to place homeless veterans into housing as soon as possible and a plan in place to address veterans who are at risk for homelessness.
To make the challenge a reality for New Orleans, Landrieu put together a coalition of non-profit organizations; homelessness service providers; service members and veterans; and federal, state and local agencies that worked together and housed 227 veterans, surpassing the original goal by more than 30 people.
“Veteran homelessness is an important and challenging issue, and we are very proud of our accomplishment in New Orleans, but the work of ending veteran homelessness is never really done,” said Landrieu. “That’s why we have also created a new and sustainable rapid-response model that combines all available local, state and federal resources with the work of our local active-duty and former military personnel—utilizing veterans to help veterans. I hope our model here in New Orleans can be replicated nationwide so that we can end veteran homelessness in America once and for all.”
Active-duty service members canvassed the streets of New Orleans, identifying their brothers- and sisters-inarms in need of assistance. Landlords across the city were recruited to provide apartments for homeless veterans utilizing government programs such as HUD-VASH and Rapid Rehousing. Supportive services were identified to ensure recently housed veterans have the resources they need to stay off the streets.
“No one who served our country should be huddled under a bridge, in shelters or camped out in the streets,” said DAV National Commander Ron Hope.“Mayor Landrieu recognized this injustice and set out to do his part to end this national tragedy. By coordinating government services and programs with the public and private sector, New Orleans was able to implement a successful program that serves our nation’s heroes in greatest need.”
“The program’s success speaks volumes to the importance of government and public- and private-sector partnerships and how these relationships can positively impact veterans,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “New Orleans’ dedication to the men and women who served has set a shining example for communities across the country, and I salute the city for being the first in the United States to end veteran homelessness.”