New Orleans Cuts Homelessness By Helping Them Leave The City

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — April Coleman and her four children are New Orleans natives, but they have no home here — not since she lost a hotel housekeeping job and her mother told them to leave. They ended up living in a car, then a shelter.

         Her prospects seemed grim until she got help from Grace at the Greenlight, a nonprofit group that supports the city's homeless community. Provided with tickets and snacks, Coleman and her children boarded a Greyhound bus Wednesday to Phoenix, Arizona, where she hopes to turn temporary opportunities into permanent ones.

         "I'll be moving in with a cousin, but hopefully only temporarily," said Coleman, 34, in an interview with The Associated Press before her departure. "She tells me the job opportunities are phenomenal and they're hiring like crazy. It's been a struggle down here, trying to keep a house and finding child care. I need two or three jobs just to make it in New Orleans."

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         Metropolitan New Orleans area has seen almost a 90 percent drop in its homeless population in the last decade, from nearly 12,000 individuals to about 1,300 in a count this year, according to Ellen Lee, director of the Office of Community Development for New Orleans. Some 300 people left the streets in the past year alone, an achievement she attributes to outreach efforts by the city and nonprofit groups.

         Counting Coleman and her children, Grace at the Greenlight has helped 1,003 people into a home — most of them in cities outside New Orleans, said Sarah Parks, the group's executive director.

         "There are different types of people who come into homelessness," Parks explained.

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         "There are homeless here who have family here and we help them reconnect with their families or connect with resources that can help them get housing here. We also realize there are a lot of people who come here seeking housing or work and have gotten stranded by so-called family or friends. We don't send them out of the city if we know they're trying to go to a shelter in another place, only if we know they have somewhere stable to land," she said.

         Coleman said living in a car before moving into the Baptist Friendship House in June was hard on her children — 9-year-old Keymora, 4-year-old Travis, 2-year-old Tyron and 1-year-old Taraji.

         "That's a hurting feeling, knowing that this is how my children are living," she recalled. "But you've got to keep pushing. I'm excited about the move. She's my closest cousin and most of all she's willing to help, she wants to help. I'm sad to leave, but I'm willing to try something new for my kids."

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         Parks, a licensed social worker and case manager, said the family has been given snacks, drinks and other supplies for the 1½-day bus trip. Her group also makes sure those who move on from New Orleans are connected to resources in their new destination.

         "We provide them information on mental health or substance abuse resources, housing information, health care information. All that. We check in to see their current status, whether they're working or still living with their family or have moved into their own home," she said. "There is extensive follow up at a week, a month and three months."

         "At the three-month mark, we've found only 4 to 5 percent of the persons we have sent home have returned to the streets," Parks added.

Coleman now has a brighter future, Parks said.

         "She has her cousin's support there and we're hopeful she'll be able to find steady income and affordable housing. Here, she was only able to find temporary work. We think she'll have a better chance of supporting her kids and herself out there," Parks said.

         Coleman offered a bit of advice for others in her situation: "Be strong. Keep praying. Keep your head up and do what you have to do for your kids," she said.

         – by AP Reporter Chevel Johnson


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