ew Orleans lays out plan to end homelessness

New Orleans lays out plan to end homelessness
November 29, 2011
CBS Money Watch

AP) NEW ORLEANS — Struggling to deal with one of the nation's largest homeless populations, New Orleans and federal officials say they'll work aggressively over the next decade to end homelessness by getting more people on the streets into homes.

On Monday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu laid out a 10-year plan the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development hope will end the homeless problem that has become chronic since 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Social workers estimate about 6,500 people are on the streets in the city. The plan calls for building more housing for homeless and creating a 24-hour center in a downtown Veterans Affairs Department hospital building.

The problem has grabbed new attention in the past three months as the park in front of City Hall, known as Duncan Plaza, has become part Occupy Wall Street demonstration and part homeless tent camp.

Melvin Powe, a 53-year-old unemployed laborer from New Orleans, is among the homeless who call Duncan Plaza home now. He was living near the public library before the Occupy movement started in the park. He was hopeful that the city would get serious about combatting the problem and said the majority of people in Duncan Plaza were homeless people who just need help finding work and getting inside.

"They're saying they will try to help the people who really need help," he said of the plan he read about in the newspaper. "I think it's good. Give them a job. Most people like me would work."

Powe said shelters are hard to get into and work is hard to find. His story was a familiar one in New Orleans.

He said that after Katrina, his family was scattered across the nation and he lost the job he held as a dishwasher and handyman at a restaurant. He said he was frustrated that the city had not done more to house homeless. He pointed to a nearby empty multistory building and said the city should take ones like that one and turn them into housing for the poor.

Mike Howells, a New Orleans public housing activist, said decisions after Katrina to close Charity Hospital, the city's public hospital where homeless often went to get treatment and help, and tear down public housing complexes made the problem worse. "They're not dealing with it, they're making it worse," he said as he stood with other activists in Duncan Plaza. "They come up with these redevelopment schemes that are inadequate."

The city's plan calls for using parts of a Veterans Affairs Department hospital as a center where people in need of housing, work and other services can get help. The hospital was damaged by Katrina and it is being replaced with a new one set to open in part by 2013.

The plan also sets up a council to coordinate efforts and calls for building more housing for the homeless. The city vowed to work with developers and organizations over 10 years to add 2,115 permanent beds for homeless individuals and 516 new beds for families. It also set goals on how many people would be helped into housing each year.

Landrieu called ending homelessness "an urgent issue that demands immediate action."

"After Hurricane Katrina, many who never thought they would ever be homeless were suddenly left with nothing," he said.

Landrieu said the city would form the New Orleans Interagency Council on Homelessness to oversee the plan and find ways to get the public and private sectors to work more effectively to combat the problem. He said city government needs to use "money that already exists" and use it "in a targeted way."

Gary Clark, a political science professor at Dillard University in New Orleans, said Landrieu has to deal with the problem of poverty and crime in New Orleans to succeed.

"Poverty and under-employment and unemployment have been more severe now than in the pre-Katrina environment," Clark said.

He said fixing the problem in New Orleans, or any other city, starts first with having a vibrant economy.
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