NEW ORLEANS — A woman who slept on the streets because homeless shelters wouldn’t take her dog and a woman and two children who’d lived in their car since leaving Mississippi are among more than 300 homeless people who got homes for the holidays in New Orleans.
Unity of Greater New Orleans , which coordinates scores of agencies that help the homeless, said that over the past three months, its members found 238 apartments and rental houses for 56 families and 182 individuals.
Last year’s three-month holiday drive aimed for 50 new homes and found apartments for 52 families. This year’s target was 200 new homes.
“It truly was a miracle,” executive director Martha Kegel said Thursday. “In the beginning we were really nervous about the campaign. We expected to have trouble reaching the goal of 200, because of the tight rental market.”
Nettie Clancy said she and her dog, Edo, had been living under an overpass for more than a year. Shelters for the homeless won’t take pets “and that’s all I have. He’s my baby,” she told WDSU-TV .
Sixty-two homeless people died on the street this year, Kegel said.
She said Unity’s January count of homeless people in New Orleans logged 2,051 in 2005. Hurricane Katrina hit that August and the number spiked to 11,619 in 2007, the next year Unity was able to make the survey. The numbers dropped below the pre-Katrina count in 2014, at 1,981, and was 1,301 in January 2017.
Kegel wouldn’t guess at the coming January count. “I am hoping it will be lower. Every year it has been lower since Katrina — but there are so many factors impacting things in the other direction that you’re always worried your luck won’t hold,” she said in a telephone interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
She said a number of landlords reduced rent rather than see people remain homeless.
A federal housing grant provided about two-thirds of the needed money for 2018, with private donors and state and local governments also playing key roles, she said in an email Friday.
“Homelessness, especially when it involves extremely vulnerable people with complex disabilities living longterm on the street, is effectively combatted when government and private people work together as we did here,” she wrote.
Latrisha Carter, 41, and her two children came to New Orleans from Jackson, Mississippi, where they had lived first with a sister and eight other people for a total of 12 in a two-bedroom house, then in an apartment where the three wound up in one room because the roof leaked badly in other rooms, Kegel said. Then, she said, they were evicted. A relative in New Orleans offered help, but that didn’t work out, Kegel said.
Carter told The New Orleans Advocate that her 9-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter did their homework by her cellphone’s flashlight. At night, she’d park on the lakefront because there were enough police officers and people around to make them feel safe.
Then someone from Unity knocked on the window. Within days, they were at the New Orleans Women’s and Children’s Shelter, which Kegel said is now providing a case manager to help the family. They moved into a double in the Upper 9th Ward the day before Thanksgiving.
“She’s always worked in fast food and has never really been able to make ends meet,” Kegel said. “This was their first Christmas tree. The kids are 9 and 10 and had never had a Christmas tree before. It was a really nice holiday for them. And the beginning of, hopefully, a much better life.”
Just being off the streets is a much better life, Clancy, who has lupus and depression, said a few days before Christmas.
“It’s going to be quiet, and there’s not going to be no fights, and there’s not going to be no drugs, and — Jesus, thank you — just amazing,” she said.