Freezing temps expected to fill N.O. shelters, but progress is reported

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The city put the freeze plan into place Wednesday night, and it appears as if there will be fewer homeless veterans on the streets.

Six months after the mayor launched a new approach to dealing with homeless vets, he says the mission is accomplished. But many homeless tonight will scramble for a place to a stay.

On the brink of the coldest night of the season, security guards force a homeless couple and their dog out of a vacant hotel off Loyola Avenue, prompted by business owners concerned about property damage and safety.

Homeless squatters frequently cause fires, and building owners worry. With temperatures plunging into the low 20s tonight, these homeless people have to go somewhere.

"The capacity for us is 250, but on a freeze night we don't have to say no at all," said David Bottner with the New Orleans Mission.

As the city activates its freeze plan, the mission will bed down 400 homeless people. Meantime, the city announces progress in the battle against one homeless segment, after being prompted by First Lady Michelle Obama.

"New Orleans is the first city in America to answer this call. We are the first city in America to end veterans' homelessness," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

"I'm so glad I'm not out there tonight," said former homeless vet Michael Washington.

Back in July, Landrieu announced a new initiative to rid city streets of homeless vets.

"I was on a park bench on Elysian Fields," said Washington, who is now one of 227 formerly homeless vets who have been housed, thanks to a federal voucher program and a large coalition of volunteers and agencies.

"I really believe the mayor may have saved my life. I'm not getting any younger, and it takes a toll on you," said Washington.

Though progress is evident, the general homeless problem persists and shelters were expected to be full Wednesday.

"When we have this kind of freeze night, people get frantic. I see it as an opportunity for people to come to their senses, and say why am I doing this?" said Bottner.

Downtown business owners say they're taking all precautions to shield these buildings from the homeless, but they say they keep coming back. The building owners use chains and padlocks on the first floor, and install cinderblock walls over second floor windows. Each day, they have to run out squatters.

But thanks to a targeted six-month effort, veterans like Washington won't be one of them.

"It's a new beginning. Certain things I used to stress over, I don't stress over any more," said Washington.

The city pledges to keep pushing until the problem is solved.

The city says it has cut the city's homeless population by nearly 10,000 people since 2007. They estimate the current homeless population, at 1,981 people.

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