Homelessness in New Orleans spiked after Hurricane Katrina, reaching 11,600 by 2007; today that number has been reduced by 90%, thanks to a "housing first" (previously) approach that starts by giving homeless people stable, permanent housing, and then addressing confounding factors like mental illness and substance addiction (on the grounds that these conditions are easier to treat when people have stable housing).
Martha Kegel is executive director of Unity New Orleans, the nonprofit that led the housing first coalition. In an interview with WBUR, she explains how the program worked in NOLA, and how much money it saved, because housing is much cheaper than ER visits, jails, and/or policing petty crime and dealing with its consequences.
The USA has an estimated homeless population of 500,000.
"Well we have reached what we call 'functional zero,' which means that we compiled a list using our outreach team [and] using our shelter lists that are updated every night. We housed, in their own apartments, every veteran on that list except nine that had refused housing, mostly because of mental illness. And we continued to work with those nine, at that point, [we] have housed four more of them. Then going forward, we have made a commitment that any time a veteran becomes newly homeless, we house them in an apartment within an average of 30 days or less. And we've maintained that now for over four years and we're extremely proud of that. It is very hard work. It requires a lot of organizations working together — and the VA and the Housing Authority — everybody working together to make that happen. We've also reduced the length of time that any homeless family spends homeless to less than 45 days. We're working on bringing that number down because the research shows that, you know, even the best run shelter is no place for a kid to be. And we're continuing to really work on chronic homelessness involving people with disabilities and really trying to end that."