How New Orleans Became to First US City to End Veteran Homelessness

On Independence Day, First Lady Michelle Obama issued the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in local communities by the end of 2015. The city of New Orleans did the first lady one better and completed the task by the end of 2014.

To be fair, the city’s last known homeless veteran was moved into his new apartment on January 2 around 6 p.m., but who are we to split hairs when the vibrant Crescent City has just become the first US city to effectively eliminate veteran homelessness?

Homelessness advocates around the nation are now praising the town’s efforts as a model for other US cities hoping to end not just veteran homelessness, but homelessness as a whole.

“The solutions that work for veterans are the solutions that work for all people,” Laura Zeilinger, executive director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, told the CS Monitor. “The problem is absolutely solvable when we invest in the practices that we know work.”

More than 300 mayors joined the first lady’s effort, along with six governors and 71 other local officials, but New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was more proactive about his pledge than any other.

“We owe our Veterans our eternal gratitude for their service and sacrifice to this nation, and making sure they have a place to call home is a small but powerful way we can show our appreciation,” Mayor Landrieu said Wednesday in a statement.

New Orleans was able to achieve the goal in part because the number of homeless veterans there is relatively manageable. Using information from an annual point-in-time count and public outreach officials, the city identified 227 homeless veterans and placed each of them in housing.

To compare with larger American cities, Chicago has 714 homeless veterans, Los Angeles 1,645, and New York 3,739.

“There are of course other cities and states that have higher numbers, but the kinds of barriers that they have been able to overcome as a partnership within the city of New Orleans is really just a landmark,” said Ann Oliva, deputy assistant secretary for special needs at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “If they can do it, I think that other communities can do it. And they can definitely be a model for other communities to tackle this in their own community.”