The Listening Post Asks: Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
WWNO's Listening Post project asks questions about local news in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and reports back on the community's response. This week the Listening Post explores homelessness in New Orleans. Where did you sleep last night?
Last June, First Lady Michelle Obama announced an initiative to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
“Just like it's our country’s duty to bring back all of our men and women from the battlefield. We also have a duty to make sure that every single veteran has a place to call home when they get here,” she said at a press conference.
New Orleans city leaders announced last week that they accomplished this goal a year early. A key player in that effort was Unity of Greater New Orleans, a local homeless resource center.
Martha Kegel is the Executive Director of Unity. She says many veterans who wind up homeless have severe mental and physical disabilities. Kegel says they also face a socioeconomic disadvantage when they get out of the military.
“A lot of veterans come from humble circumstances. So they don’t necessarily have the kinds of family networks that middle class people have when middle class people fall on hard times,” she says.
Kegel says in the end, the city campaign successfully housed 227 vets. More than half of these folks were in their 50s or older. But Kegel notes that nobody is saying ‘mission accomplished’, as every week more veterans become homeless in New Orleans.
“We have vowed that we will house every homeless veteran that becomes known to us within an average of 30 days,” she says.
Next week Unity is undertaking its annual count of homeless residents in New Orleans. Last year they surveyed almost 2,000 people living in shelters, on the street, and abandoned buildings. Kegel says homelessness is down 83 percent from its peak after Katrina. But rising rents around the city is causing trouble.
“We have a lot of folks here who are maybe a paycheck away, or a broken refrigerator away, an accident away from becoming homeless," She says.
Every time we do a segment we send out questions about our topic via text message. Here are the responses we got to our questions about homelessness:
- Why do you think people become homeless?
"I don’t think people plan to be homeless. Every individual case is different obviously, so that’s impossible to answer." “There are a lot of things that could cause a person to become homeless. Loss of an occupation/unemployment, divorce, loss of loved ones, or they could just choose not to work.” "Lost of job, insufficient funds, mishandling finances,drugs,gambling,etc" “Mental health issues” “Disability, lack of affordable housing & lack of a support system” “Life is hard! I’m well educated and employed and still don’t make much money. A lot of people aren’t as fortunate as I’ve been to have great support along the way” “I think it just happens. The economy is just so messed up that it leaves you no choice but to be stuck out. Given that I was once homeless because my mom wasn’t able to pay the rent and times are just hard. I mean things just happen without you intending it to”
- When was the last time you spoke with a homeless person? What did you talk about?
"2 weeks ago. We talked about how he tells jokes instead of begging for change." "I have never spoken to a homeless person, unfortunately" "I spoke to a homless person maybe a month ago, I was homeless myself, marital problems, funds were not enough for deposit and move in.” “I work for a homeless services agency, so I talk to homeless & formally homeless people often.” “Most weeks at the Armstrong park farmers market. Our vendors like to help them out with food whenever they can.” “I don’t actually hold conversations with them, I just offer them money or water if I see them sitting around.”
- Other than putting people in shelters, how would you help the homeless in New Orleans?
“We need to stop treating homeless with disrespect or ignoring them altogether. Both politically and as individuals. Our policies and laws are not designed with them in mind and look at them as a problem when the problem is clearly the system itself.” “Provide services for underlying mental health needs that are available for those who desire them” “ I think we should build one-two bedroom homes in small communities with communal kitchens, and educate the people who reside in those homes on agriculture and becoming self sufficient.” “Job training and vouchers, with rehab” “Open more mental health beds” “Housing. Duh.” “A few cities are starting tiny house villages to help homeless people get back on their feet. I think that would be a great way to offer resources while fostering independence, redevelop blighted land, and create jobs to maintain the villages. I also think the concept has a lot of potential to incorporate sustainable practices like using renewable energy and creating subsistence gardens. Nola needs all of that pronto!!” “I think a good idea would be to have these apartments that would allow them to get themselves situated. Give them a place of work and help them to get in a stable place. Homeless shelters don’t actually do much because there’s only a limited amount of people that could be taken in.”
Thanks to everyone who texted in. If you want to get our text messages and share your opinions for our segment, text the word “hello” to 504-303-4348.
We also took our trusty listening fish recording device to the New Orleans Mission in Central City to hear from people waiting in line to register at the shelter.
Click below to hear voices from the New Orleans Mission.
Remember, if you want to join the conversation, text the word "Hello” to 504-303-4348. Or stop by our Listening Post recording devices at Norman Mayer library in Gentilly and Joe W. Brown recreation center in New Orleans East. You can record your thoughts on our weekly topics and you might just hear your voice on the radio.
Hit us up! We'll see you at the Listening Post.