Last Saturday, 45 graduates of the New Orleans Police Department’s Homeless Assistance Collaborative looked forward to returning to the streets to help others. Composed of social workers, medical students, and community activists, the group was created by the Police Department to identify and help chronically homeless people transition from the streets to shelters and, eventually, to permanent residences. The brainchild of commander Capt. Louis Dabdoub III, the program kicked off late last year with a $249,000 federal grant and a $100,000 grant from Baptist Community Ministries. Police Superintendent Eddie Compass said, “We are the first police department to initiate an endeavor of this magnitude. And we will become the benchmark by which all other programs are measured.”
Since the start of the program late last year, 111 homeless people have been identified by police. Of that number, 34 have been placed in long-term transitional housing. Others have declined help. Programs like this will help keep many homeless people out of jail and provide officers with more alternatives, said Martha Kegel of Unity for the Homeless. “This method of involving the police is an innovative approach that ultimately is the only thing that’s going to reduce homelessness,” she said. Orleans and Jefferson parishes have 6,400 homeless people, many of whom are mentally ill.