Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

How did New Orleans solve its homeless veterans problem?

by Julian Burrell and A Martínez | Take Two®

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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 12: Homeless people sit near a mural after waking up before dawn to dismantle their beds and encampments before businesses open October 12, 2007 in the downtown Skid Row area of Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles city officials recently settled a 2003 lawsuit brought by advocates for homeless skid row residents who complained of being arrested for sleeping on sidewalks, despite having nowhere else to go. Under the new deal, people can sleep on Los Angeles sidewalks between 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. as long as they do not block doorways or driveways, or completely block the sidewalk. Los Angeles is often referred to as the homeless capital of the nation because of its estimated 40,144 people living on city streets and 73,000 homeless spread across the county, according to recent figures attributed to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, The 73,000 homeless include 10,000 minors, 24,505 people suffering from a mental illness, 8,453 military veterans, and nearly 7,200 victims of domestic abuse. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images) David McNew/Getty Images

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County did increase this year, but there is a silver lining: there are fewer homeless veterans on the streets.

The number of homeless veterans in the county dropped from 4,362 in the 2015 count to 3,071 this year, according to officials. 

The city's effort to bring down that number dovetail with President Obama's goal to eliminate homelessness among America's veteran service men and women nationwide.

Los Angeles is slowly moving toward that goal but New Orleans is one of the cities that has actually reached it.

"Right now it's down to a functional zero," says Times-Picayune reporter Richard Webster to Take Two's A Martinez.

"Before Hurricane [Katrina], we had about 2,000 homeless people on the street at any point in time," Webster says.  "That ballooned to 12,000 in 2007. Per the latest numbers last year, it got down to 1,700."

That's almost a 90 percent reduction. Webster said that was achieved when every philanthropic homeless organization came together to create the Interagency Council in Homelessness.

"Before the storm all the different non-profits and homeless agencies were working for themselves, competing for grants," he says. "There was no coordination. What this plan did was bring all these different partners together."

That coordination is between federal, state and local agencies. One group, Unity of Greater New Orleans, has taken charge. It takes the lead on applying for grants, decides who gets the money and  how it will be used.  Usually it goes towards permanent supportive housing for veterans. 

So what exactly does the phrase "functional zero" mean? According to Webster it doesn't mean that there are no more homeless veterans on the street.

"Now there is a guarantee that if [a veteran] is found on the street, they'll receive a home within 30 days," Webster says. "Stopping people from getting homeless is kind of hard because there's so many factors that go into it. What they're trying to do is once they are on the streets, they have a rapid response system in place to try and put these people into homes as quickly as possible."

The program has successfully helped one segment of the homelessness population, veterans, and plans to move on to helping others for the next few years.

While it's a remarkable achievement, Webster says he isn't sure that the same thing can be replicated everywhere and questions whether a city as large as Los Angeles County could make similar changes.

"It may be a lot harder in Los Angeles because New Orleans is smaller geographically," Webster says. "I don't know if the same thing can be pulled off there."

To hear the full conversation, click the player above.

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