New Orleans

Post-Katrina New Orleans

Dealing with a Deluge that Doubled Homelessness

Even before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the Big Easy had more than 6,000 homeless residents—but it lacked a strategy to deal with the problem.

So in 2003, the Downtown Development District of New Orleans (DDD) contacted Common Ground's national arm, now Community Solutions, to discuss its options.

“The idea that you could put someone in a high-quality environment and serve their needs and still save money—that was something we would be crazy not to try,” recalls DDD President Kurt Weigle.

Shortly after, through the DDD, Community Solutions President Rosanne Haggerty met Martha Kegel, head of UNITY, an award-winning organization that coordinates dozens of local agencies on issues related to housing and homelessness. It was the beginning of an exciting partnership. “They have worked hand in hand with us to develop resources to get vulnerable people housed,” says Kegel.

On the day Katrina hit, Rosanne and her team were scheduled to have a conference call with their New Orleans allies. After the storm, they immediately sent hard-to-find supplies. When the winds died down, the tougher work began: More than 51,000 rental units were swept away in the deluge and homelessness doubled, to about 12,000.

Collaborating to Create Lasting Solutions

Given the scale of the problems in New Orleans, both before and after Katrina, Community Solutions collaborated with UNITY and other New Orleans partners to create long term and enduring solutions to homelessness.

Our team worked with local players to secure an allocation of 3,000 federal housing vouchers to re-house homeless and disabled adults and create new state programs to assist the homeless.

“The idea that you could put someone in a high-quality environment and serve their needs and still save money—that was something we would be crazy not to try.”
Kurt Weigle of the Downtown Development District of New Orleans

Team members also secured development sites and financing to create New Orleans’ first congregate supportive housing residences to serve homeless individuals with disabilities and low- income workers.

Through the use of the Vulnerability Index and other tools pioneered by the Community Solutions team, UNITY has rapidly re-housed over 1,000 residents, most of them with disabilities, who previously occupied squatter camps and abandoned buildings. We have also engaged New Orleans’ leading developers to participate in creating supportive housing.

Like any good partnership, the learning flows in both directions. After hearing about a locally developed initiative, Homeless Experience Legal Protection (HELP) program, which brings legal assistance to the homeless, our team approached its founder, Judge Jay Zainey, to launch similar initiatives in New York and Hartford.

Building Homes—and Momentum

Today, Community Solutions continues to work with UNITY on five projects in New Orleans. The first, which includes 56 units in a building abandoned after the storm, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2011. All told, 400 units are in the pipeline.

But Community Solution’s biggest impact on New Orleans has not come in the form of bricks and mortar. Instead, we take pride in having helped a city fundamentally change its approach to homelessness. Despite overwhelming obstacles, New Orleans, a partner in the 100,000 Homes Campaign, now boasts the country’s highest housing placement rate for homeless adults.