Common Questions

The City of New Orleans is looking for ways to meet the needs of all who call New Orleans home, but the goal is to end chronic homelessness and support those looking to be housed. It's important to understand that homelessness is a complex issue with various challenges that the City is looking to address.

There are many types of homeless individuals and different options for support depending on the person’s need. The biggest challenge is connecting the right person with the service that best meets their needs. Here are some commonly asked questions:

Why is housing a public health issue?

In 1991, the United Nations declared housing to be fundamental right. While homelessness is being reduced overall in the United States and in particular New Orleans, homelessness still remains a serious public health issue. Living in an outdoor encampment within the city is not a healthy environment for anyone. Those who experience homelessness can have high rates of behavioral, mental, and physical health problems. These conditions often pose a barrier to health care, jobs, and affordable housing. This is why NOHD highly encourages support for organizations such as UNITY. They can effectively reduce poverty and homelessness through coordinated case management and resources to meet people's individual needs. 

What is the housing process for people who are homeless?

UNITY of Greater New Orleans is the homeless Continuum of Care (CoC) lead organization for New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and Kenner. A Coordinated Entry System is operated in these areas to assist people who are in a housing crisis. This system consists of day shelters, emergency shelters and street outreach programs to assist people who are in a housing crisis by assessing emergency needs, making referrals, and providing housing navigation assistance for those who are experiencing the greatest barriers to housing. The coordinated entry system conducts assessments and prioritizes the most vulnerable for housing navigation and referrals to housing programs.

What are the housing options for people who are homeless?

People who are experiencing homelessness need affordable housing. Homeless individuals can be assisted through mainstream affordable housing programs including senior housing. There are limited resources for housing subsidies through homeless programs. People with disabling conditions and the greatest barriers to housing are prioritized for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) and Rapid Rehousing (RRH) programs. Rapid Rehousing provides short term rental assistance and housing stability services. PSH provides longer term rental assistance with supportive services. In both programs, participants pay a portion of their income towards rent.

What is chronic homelessness?  

People who are experiencing chronic homelessness have a disabling condition that impedes their ability to maintain housing and as a result, have experienced homelessness for long periods of time. Chronic homelessness is defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as experiencing literal homelessness (living on the streets, in a shelter or abandoned building) for four or more times in the last three years for a total of 12 months or more. People who are chronically homeless are the most vulnerable people who are most likely to die if not provided with assistance with permanent supportive housing (PSH).

Once someone has a voucher then what?

Housing voucher does not equal house. Once a homeless person has a voucher, they still need to find a house or apartment that will accept their voucher. Units must pass an inspection, have a reasonable rent amount, and not exceed local fair market rents. It can be difficult to find a landlord that will accept a voucher or find a house/apartment that has a reasonable rent especially for those with rapid rehousing vouchers which provide rental assistance for a shorter period of time.

Can you arrest people for sleeping on sidewalks?

Federal courts have made it clear that cities cannot make it illegal to be homeless. Unless a person is blocking a public right-of-way, it is not illegal for them to sleep on the sidewalk. The New Orleans Health Department also works with people to ensure that they leave the public right of way accessible to everybody.

Are tents illegal?

With the current city ordinance, tents are considered personal property and therefore not illegal. Tents will only be removed if they pose a public health risk.

Can you remove everything from a homeless area?

The law does not allow city officials to remove someone’s personal belongings. The New Orleans Health Department and its partners do their best not to remove items that would prevent someone from being able to gain employment or housing. They remove illegal items, abandoned items, and items that increase the risk of health threats.

What can be done about panhandlers?

Due to first amendment rights, there are limited actions that can be taken regarding panhandlers and that is a separate issue from the homeless encampment clean ups that occur. Many panhandlers are not homeless, but are not able to make ends meet and therefore panhandle for enough money to pay rent or buy groceries.

Does dropping off food or tents make the problem worse?

Donated food that is not immediately accepted is often left to spoil and eaten by rodents. Additionally, donated food that is not properly prepared can unknowingly cause someone to get sick with bacteria and viruses such as Hepatitis A. In order to maintain sanitary conditions, reduce rodent populations, and limit the spread of disease, it is better to give directly to homeless shelters or service providers specializing in food distribution. Serving food with a local organization encourages homeless individuals to seek food in sanitary conditions and where they can also be connected to other resources.

Residents can donate food to a food bank to support low-income families who may otherwise need to panhandle for the money to afford groceries. If some residents still decide to give food directly to people, they should give individually packaged food. Don’t drop off food. Instead, hand them directly to people and make sure they personally accept it. Additionally, NOHD highly suggests that residents clean up any food or waste that is left over. Protecting people’s health is just as important as feeding them.

Providing tents does not increase the rate of homelessness. However, the best way to help is by donating to service providers who provide substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, and housing.

This one pager summarizes some safe ways residents can help people experiencing homelessness.

If someone needs assistance for food, they can refer to this local food support guide

What can I do if I see a child in an encampment?

Thanks to UNITY of Greater New Orleans and their hard work, it is extremely rare to find someone under age of 18 who is experiencing unsheltered homelessness in New Orleans. If an unaccompanied child is believed to be unsheltered, call 911 to immediately alert the authorities to assist the child. Covenant House can provide immediate crisis housing assistance for youth and young adults who are younger than age 26, including parenting youth.  Street outreach teams can also be contacted, including youth outreach conducted by Start’s Drop-In Center for Youth, Covenant House, and UNITY Welcome Home.

Covenant House: 504-584-1111

Start Drop-In Center for Youth: 504-350-8434

UNITY: 504-570-9812