NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Homeless advocates say the number of homeless New Orleanians is on the rise and they’re blaming skyrocketing rental costs combined with a decrease in median income.
“I can use it as an extra suitcase,” Ronnie Jones said, showing off his brand new backpack Saturday afternoon (April 27).
“If I sleep out, I put my sheets and everything in there,” Alfred Denks, a New Orleans native currently living without a home, said.
Ozanam Inn handed out 150 backpacks to Jones, Denks and other people experiencing homelessness. Shirone Martin is the case manager of the Warehouse District shelter and said although it seems like a small thing, the backpacks can be a huge help.
“It’s just as good as a military backpack. It has different areas where they can tie things down with it and put things in,” Martin said.
The shelter is located on Camp Street and has been providing food, services and clothing for New Orleans’ homeless since 1955.
“They can get housing, employment, food stamps, all kinds of things. We do that all right here,” Martin said.
Martin said they’re always busy, but he’s noticed a shift in the homeless population.
“I know it’s growing because I see different faces coming here,” Martin said.
Martha Kegal -- the executive director of Unity New Orleans -- said the change is worrying.
“This is really disturbing. We’ve been used to seeing progress every year,” Kegal said.
Unity New Orleans is a coalition of around 60 organizations working to provide housing and services for the homeless. Kegal said according to every annual report since 2007, Unity has seen a decrease in the number of homeless in New Orleans. That is, until this year.
“We’re virtually at a standstill," Kegal said. “We’re not making any progress at all and the reason for that is -- despite this huge effort to allow all these homeless people in apartments -- as fast as we’re housing a homeless person, there are two more people falling into homelessness. And that’s because of the city’s acute shortage of affordable rental housing.”
Kegal said more and more of folks living on the street are there for the first time, and most are from New Orleans and the surrounding area.
“These are the people who created this wonderful place, and yet they are falling into homelessness because they can’t afford the housing,” Kegal said.
Kegal said it’s a crisis and she’s calling on government leaders to invest in affordable housing and on New Orleanians to take a stand.
“There’s a role for everyone to play,” she said.
Kegal said the lives of these homeless men and women are at risk, pointing to research that indicates the longer one stays on the street, the more likely he or she will die prematurely.
Meanwhile, the city’s homeless struggle to get back on their feet.
“I can work,” Denks said, holding back tears. “But, I can’t do nothing without money."