- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - New Orleans plans to use part of the old Veterans Affairs hospital as an overnight shelter for homeless people.

Unlike most of the city’s other homeless shelters, this one won’t require people who use it to be sober or pay a fee, and they’ll be able to stay longer.

Such “low-barrier” shelters are needed to ensure that all homeless people can get help and a place to stay, officials say.

The 100-bed downtown shelter will be on the floor above an already open homeless day shelter and Community Resources and Referral Center, where a dozen groups and agencies that help the homeless are available during the day, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Wednesday.

“Last year, 44 homeless people died on our streets and many more struggle to get the care they need,” he said.

Landrieu’s preferred site, a former gym, had upset many people because it was near an open high school and one scheduled to be reopened in the same neighborhood, local media report.

Officials said Wednesday that the wing housing the day shelter was recently renovated, making the site available to the city sooner than expected.

The new shelter will be opened with $1.5 million from the city and $1 million from the Downtown Development District. The city will pay $750,000 toward annual operating costs, with the development district and others also providing money.

Construction is expected to begin this fall and take about five months, Erin V. Burns, Landrieu’s press secretary, said in an email.

After Hurricane Katrina flooded the old hospital’s first floor, VA medical care was reorganized as outpatient clinics around the city. A new VA hospital opened in November.

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