Local Homeless Population Stagnant for First Time in 11 Years: Why, How you can Help?

After over a decade of significant decreases, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Jefferson and Orleans parishes dropped by just nine people from 2018 to 2019. 

This fact is revealed in new point-in-time data from UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a United Way community partner leading a collaborative of over 60 agencies that provide housing and services to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. 

“This year, we’ve essentially hit a standstill,” said UNITY Executive Director Martha Kegel during a recent interview on LIVE UNITED Radio. “It [the data] tells us that there are new people moving into homelessness every day who were not homeless the night before.”

The primary cause of this alarming trend reversal? 

“The reason for all this new homelessness is because New Orleans has a really serious shortage of affordable rental housing,” explained Martha. “That, study after study has shown, is the largest factor driving homelessness across the United States.”

Housing is the most expensive category in the Household Survival Budget for a single adult according to the United Way’s ALICE Report. When nearly 1 in 2 households can’t afford the basics in this budget, it’s easy to see how more individuals could be falling into homelessness.

UNITY is not taking the new findings lightly. “We’re at a crossroads where we as a community have to decide – are we going to just sit by and allow homelessness to go up? …Or are we going to continue to make progress and drive those numbers down?” said Martha. 

The organization’s own response is multi-pronged. UNITY is leading a boot camp with community partners to brainstorm new ways to tackle homelessness; raising funds to support individuals who are in housing crises, but not yet homeless; and building support for immediate government action to address the affordable housing shortage.   

Martha encouraged community members looking for ways to help to donate household goods and furniture to UNITY’s warehouse. UNITY houses hundreds of chronically homeless people with disabilities and homeless families in their own apartments, and items like pots and pans, linens, and cleaning supplies are needed to make these spaces livable.

Homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution. United Way is proud to support organizations like UNITY who provide crucial on-the-ground support while also going after the root causes of homelessness. 

Together, we’re fighting for equitable communities where everyone is healthy, educated, and financially stable. Join us