New Orleans still tackling homeless vets issue despite city's claim

New Orleans still tackling homeless veterans issue despite city's claim

Less than a week ago, the Landrieu administration held a news conference applauding New Orleans for being the first major city in the nation to "end veteran homelessness."

WWL-TV hit the streets on Friday night to see if that truly is the case.

Cocooned in blankets for warmth these homeless men and women for varying reasons, are once again camped out underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway. On Jan. 7, Mayor Landrieu flanked by a coalition of supporters announced an end to chronic homelessness in the Crescent City.

"We didn't just hit our mark, we exceeded our mark by housing 220 homeless veterans," said Landrieu during the press event.

But in less than five minutes, our Eyewitness News crew met Robert Bentley who identified himself as a homeless Desert Storm and Afghanistan War veteran. His alleged military service history is something we couldn't confirm with the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday night. The 57-year-old says he's been living on the streets for nine months.

"I was in the service and I'm homeless and right now, everything is just real bad," said Bentley.

For months the city with help from non-profits and volunteers worked to target homeless veterans citywide and find them permanent housing. Bentley says in his case no housing assistance was ever offered: he said no.

During a six-month period the City of New Orleans confirms it was able to find housing for 227 homeless veterans.

"We searched very hard for every homeless veteran we could find on the streets and in the shelters of New Orleans and then we permanently housed them in their own apartments every homeless veteran we could find who could accept housing," said Martha Kegel, executive director of UNITY of Greater New Orleans.

The non-profit confirms that nine homeless veterans refused help. However, Kegel says a rapid response system is now in place to quickly house homeless veterans within 30-days of discovering them.

"People become homeless every day and veterans unfortunately are at high risk of homelessness because of PTSD and other factors," added Kegel.

Helping to identify and track down homeless veterans on city streets were local volunteers, active duty military and veterans including members of New Orleans VFW Post 8973.

"When someone who shared a common background with them approached them we were able to be very good advocates to get them connected with the va to get them connected with other providers," said Marshall Hevron with VFW Post 8973.

But, he warns the battle isn't over.

"What's important like any victory, you can't just rest on your laurels, you have to do what can to keep the victory up. What I've seen is that the mayor and the city is dedicated to keeping up this effort," said Hevron.

WWL-TV reached out to the City for a comment on this story. Mayor Landrieu issued this statement:

"I'm honored and very pleased that we have housed every located homeless veteran in New Orleans thanks to the hard work of our committed partners, but the work of ending veteran homelessness is never really done. That's why we have also created a new and sustainable rapid response model with the goal of housing identified and confirmed veterans within an average of 30 days. We will never stop our efforts because making sure veterans have a place to call home is a small but powerful way we can show our appreciation for their service and sacrifice." – Mayor Mitch Landrieu

If you know of a homeless veteran in New Orleans, the City is asking the public to call the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs national call center, so any homeless veteran can be located and identified: 1-877-424-3838.


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