The New Orleans Health Department has launched a website that outlines current initiatives to curb the rate of people experiencing homelessness, which remained stagnant from 2018 to 2019.
The new website tracks New Orleans’ rate of homelessness among other U.S. cities, outlines ways New Orleans residents can help the city’s homeless population, and, in a section titled “Why is addressing homelessness so tricky?,” attempts to explain the state of subsidized housing.
There were 1,188 homeless people living in New Orleans in 2018, according to advocacy organizations’ point-in-time surveys that provide the city with annual counts of its homeless population. The 2019 count found there were 1,179—a drop of just nine people.
When the city launched its 10-year plan to end homelessness in 2011, the city’s homeless population was 6,687. Its 2019 count marks a significant drop within the last eight years, but homeless advocates argue that the relatively unchanged population over the last year points to the effects of a dwindling affordable housing market, a dramatic increase in the cost of living, and a shortage of federal and state funds to help house vulnerable populations.
The website outlines how a “multidepartmental team is actively working with partners on a variety of projects, programs, and initiatives to address short and long-term needs,” Health Department director Jennifer Avegno said in a statement.
Those projects include last year’s opening of the city’s first low-barrier shelter in the former VA hospital in the Central Business District. The shelter offers 100 beds and is open to anyone over age 18 and their pets without any requirements regarding sobriety, payment, or identification, which often are needed for entry at many area shelters. The city and Downtown Development District each agreed to pay $1 million for the shelter, with the city, Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Ernest N. Morial Convention Center splitting the shelter’s $1.5 million annual operating costs.
On Friday, August 16, Health Department officials will propose revisions to a recently passed ordinance from the New Orleans City Council, which codified into law a series of Health Department policies to remove homeless encampments, despite the objections of Mayor LaToya Cantrell and a host of civil rights and homeless advocacy groups.