“The increase is devastating because homelessness is traumatic and life-threatening for the people experiencing it. All the progress our community made in reducing homelessness, particularly street homelessness, during the first two years of the pandemic has evaporated as the major forces driving homelessness overpower the resources currently available.”Martha Kegel, executive director of UNITY
Edited by Tribune Staff
Homelessness in the New Orleans metro area is up 15 percent from a year ago, erasing the progress made in the first two years of the pandemic to reduce the number of people sleeping on the street or in emergency shelter, UNITY of Greater New Orleans announced Monday.
Designated by the federal government to conduct the official count of homelessness for New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, the 31-year-old nonprofit organization publicly released the results of its annual Point in Time count on May 1. The numbers were submitted by UNITY to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday, April 28.
A total of 1390 people were homeless during UNITY’s January 23, 2023 one-night count; 553 of them were living on the street and 837 were in shelter. Primarily as a result of pandemic resources including hotels and apartments for people living on the street, homelessness was down in New Orleans during the first two years of the pandemic. During the February 2022 count, 1214 people were homeless; 364 were living on the street and 850 in shelter.
The numbers of people experiencing homelessness now are higher than they were before the pandemic. During the January 2020 count, 1314 people were homeless, with 555 living on the street – about the same as now — and 759 living in shelter.
“The increase is devastating because homelessness is traumatic and life-threatening for the people experiencing it,” says Martha Kegel, executive director of UNITY, which coordinates the work of a coalition of agencies providing housing and services for people experiencing homelessness and those rescued from homelessness in prior years. “All the progress our community made in reducing homelessness, particularly street homelessness, during the first two years of the pandemic has evaporated as the major forces driving homelessness overpower the resources currently available.”
During the first two years of the pandemic, an initiative by the city, state and UNITY to place people on the street in hotels and apartments reduced street homelessness by 34 percent, but soaring rents, caused by pandemic-induced inflation, the growing gap between the rich and the poor that worsened during the pandemic, and the impact of Hurricane Ida in damaging apartments and driving up property insurance costs have triggered a reversal of progress on homelessness, Kegel says, adding that the drying up of pandemic resources for families in poverty and people experiencing homelessness have also had an impact.
Kegel says that homeless service providers in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish are struggling to counter the national trend of rising homelessness, which began in 2016. While homelessness nationally increased 6 percent between 2016-2022, homelessness in New Orleans had decreased 25 percent during that same period.
“But the extremely high rents in our community now are driving more people into shelters and out on the street. Until our community develops an adequate supply of affordable rental housing and boosts the income of our fellow New Orleanians who are living in deep poverty, we are facing an uphill battle.”
The fair-market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in New Orleans is now $1002 a month. That is an 8 percent increase over 2022 – the largest annual increase since Hurricane Katrina.