In June 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by the end of 2015. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was galvanized, and returned home filled with determination. He assembled a broad public-private partnership and enlisted these leaders in a committed and very public effort to achieve this ambitious goal – a full year early.
Local leaders, as well as staff at all levels of community agencies, began meeting immediately to chart the course forward. Elected and appointed officials, UNITY of Greater New Orleans (the Continuum of Care lead agency), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and dozens of nonprofit agencies came together to map out strategies, identify veterans in need, organize and implement a process, expand outreach for housing, and more.
The effort employed many strategies. A Master List was updated regularly. As bottlenecks were identified, the team moved swiftly to overcome them. For example, at the outset, it took 2-4 weeks to determine veteran status, but the VA reduced this to a one-day turnaround. As the lack of rental units emerged as a barrier, the Mayor wrote directly to landlords asking them to participate and many – some veterans themselves – made units available and expedited access. More than 150 Military volunteers contributed, going out at night on street outreach teams as well as helping to furnish and equip apartments for veterans.
Despite the collective efforts, housing placements were not on pace to meet the December 2014 goal. In response, a series of mid-course corrections were introduced that sharply accelerated the process.
The retooled approach was successful and on January 5, 2015, Mayor Landrieu announced that New Orleans had become the first city in the United States to end veteran homelessness.
Interviews and site visits were held with stakeholders from the City of New Orleans, UNITY of Greater New Orleans, Volunteers of America, the VA, the Housing of Authority of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana’s Housing Corporation, the Mayors Military Advisory Group, and others. The resulting report – filled with tools, tactics, quotes, and strategies – combines insights and experiences from committed individuals who contributed at all levels.
This guidance document should be useful for other community leaders seeking to mobilize a significant local response as well as to local HUD, VA, and community advocates and providers working to optimize their current activities.
Previously HUD presented a webinar with several key players from New Orleans, reflecting on what they did to reach this goal.