NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Homelessness was an out-of-control problem after Hurricane Katrina, but has been reined in a decade after the catastrophic storm, according to a report released Thursday.
A recent count found about 1,703 chronically homeless people in New Orleans and the neighboring metropolitan area of Jefferson Parish, according to UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a collaboration of homeless agencies. That's an 85 percent decline in homelessness since 2007, when it was at its peak after Katrina with 11,619 homeless people.
In 2007, a park in front of City Hall sprouted with tents erected by the homeless. At the time, the homeless encampment became an embarrassment to then-Mayor Ray Nagin.
Advocates say extensive work with the homeless and government aid were the reasons for the drop. After Katrina, thousands of people were living in abandoned buildings and houses throughout the ruined city.
UNITY estimated it has helped about 40,000 homeless into permanent housing since Katrina.
"That is a spectacular reduction," said Martha J. Kegel, UNITY's executive director.
Still, the rate of homelessness here remains higher than many other American cities with about 47 homeless people per 10,000 residents in 2014, the report said. Still, that's much lower than Washington, D.C., New York City, San Francisco, according to the report.
Abbott Rolland, 59, lost his home during Katrina and has struggled ever since. He became homeless in 2012, but UNITY presented him with a two-bedroom apartment Thursday.
Inside his new apartment, Rolland — leaning on a walker due to debilitating rheumatoid arthritis — nodded with gratitude.
"That's the way I feel right now, blessed," Rolland said. "It's a lot better than feeling like the whole world is coming down on you."