Group Sets New Goals After Housing Homeless New Orleans Vets

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The coalition that made New Orleans the first city to say it had ended chronic homelessness among veterans is expanding its goals across the board.

         Unity New Orleans said that, given enough money and volunteers, it can end homelessness for families by Thanksgiving; and chronic homelessness for people with disabilities by Independence Day next year and for youth by the end of 2019.

         "We're still calculating the money involved," Executive Director Martha Kegel said in an interview after the coalition made its plan public Monday.

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         But, she emphasized, it's possible — and coalition members know it because of last year's success in getting chronically homeless veterans either in permanent housing or on an immediate path to it.

         That success brought first lady Michelle Obama to New Orleans a year ago to congratulate the city.

         "Once we saw what we could do for veterans, the very next question was, 'Why aren't we doing this for homeless children?' If we can do it for veterans, we can do it for children. Should do it. Will," Kegel said.

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         She said a major emphasis will be working faster to get people out of shelters into transitional housing, and out of transitional housing into permanent apartments, with short- or long-term counseling to help them stay there.

         That "doesn't really require additional shelter beds. It requires everyone to work harder," she said.

         However, the plan also calls for more emergency shelter beds for chronically homeless people, including those with mental illness and substance abuse problems.

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         The group's longest-range goal is to reduce "street homelessness," which often is short-term, by 75 percent by the end of 2020.

         "The first three goals, you haven't succeeded until you provide that person permanent housing in their own apartment," Kegel said. But many people only need very short-term help — and for them, additional shelters can be the answer.

         "Most people literally just need three hots and a cot for a couple of days or weeks. Then they're able to pull themselves out of it," she said.

         – by AP Reporter Janet McConnaughey



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