New “Low Barrier” Homeless Shelter Lands In Central City; Neighbors Not Happy

14:45 October 05, 2016
By: Anthony O'Donnell
City officials have been planning to build a new shelter in New Orleans for over a year to help reduce the number of homeless men, women, and children on the city’s streets. While numbers have dropped more than 80% from the homeless population’s peak following Katrina, when more than 10,000 people lived on the streets, in shelters, and in abandoned buildings, homelessness is still an epidemic in the city. Now, city officials have finally settled on a location for the new shelter, which will be the city’s most accessible, with few of the requirements that often discourage indigent people from seeking help. The only problem? The neighbors.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that the shelter will be built at 3101 Erato St. in Central City, drawing the ire of residents of the B.W. Cooper neighborhood. The shelter’s location was chosen in part because the homeless already congregate together nearby, under the expressway, making outreach easier.

Unfortunately, positioning the shelter near the homeless encampment also places it within a block of two schools, Sylvanie Williams College Prep and Booker T. Washington High, a KIPP charter school that is scheduled to open its doors in 2017. Neighborhood activists have spoken out about the dangers this could pose to students. "We're concerned in terms of the safety of our kids," said Bill Kleban, president of New Orleans College Prep.

The situation is further complicated by the shelter's planned "no-barrier" concept, which is intended to provide services for homeless people who are turned away by other shelters. The no-barrier model, which has found success in San Antonio and other cities with high homeless populations, typically uses a shaded outdoor space similar to a courtyard as its central location. The open design carries over to the shelter's admission policy; while many shelters require ID or proof of sobriety for admission, the no-barrier shelter would have none of these requirements. This is intended to attract the mentally ill, chronically homeless, and substance-addicted elements of the street population that often go without essential services.

Landrieu has said the no-barrier shelter will "help get people off the street quickly," and Unity of Greater New Orleans director Martha Kegel called it "the most effective and humanitarian way" to cut down on homelessness. While the proximity to school areas has raised concerns, the location has other advantages; it's near Health Care for the Homeless, the Rebuild Center, and other centers for important services. The shelter is expected to cost $1.5 million to operate annually.

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