A view from the side of the road, helping the poor
The poor may always be with us, but Marianite of Holy Cross Sister Marjorie Hebert, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, says putting a dent in homelessness and attacking its root causes require the coordinated efforts of many agencies, including governmental groups and the faith-based community.
“We’re responsive to the needs of the homeless, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year,” Sister Marjorie said. “Our goal is to ultimately find permanent housing for everyone. Unfortunately, I think we’re going to always have a number of homeless because they fall on hard times. Historically, that was the beginning of Catholic Charities in this city – with the arrival of the first Ursuline nuns who took care of people on the street.
“We are still true to that mission going forward. We are continuing to seek ways to collaborate with the city, and right now through the direction of Archbishop (Gregory) Aymond, we’re continuing that dialogue. We know that one group that is not being cared for, to a large extent, are those dealing with mental illness and other behavioral disorders. That’s a gaping hole.”
Collaborating with others
Catholic Charities (CCANO) is working closely with New Orleans city officials and with Unity of Greater New Orleans, the umbrella agency charged with ending homelessness, who have collaborated on efforts in the last several months to reduce the number of people living in impromptu camps. Those camps are located primarily beneath Interstate 10 near downtown New Orleans.
In August, citing health concerns due to unsanitary conditions, police moved out about 150 homeless people who had set up tents, furniture and cooking equipment in a temporary camp under the I-10 near the Union Passenger Terminal. Other, smaller camps have cropped up.
Sister Marjorie said Catholic Charities was part of the multi-faceted outreach team, purchasing vouchers to help homeless individuals find emergency shelter and providing case managers to assess specific needs of each individual.
Nicole Dillard, project coordinator of CCANO’s Community Services Ministry, said those with mental health problems “are the most vulnerable and difficult to help” because many “don’t want to go to a shelter, and it can take three to six months to get them into permanent housing.”
“One of the things that has been on the forefront of the city’s mind and UNITY’s mind is doing everything in as humane a way as possible,” Dillard said. “The whole point is that we’re not moving people from one spot to another, but we’re providing them with resources and tools to help them find themselves in a better situation.”
When CCANO social workers and volunteers recently assisted in a “point in time” survey of about 40 homeless people living in the camps beneath the I-10, the survey found that a large percentage suffered from serious mental or physical health issues or substance abuse.
“Our hope is that, as we continue to work together, we’ll find the ways and means to provide facilities to care for these individuals,” Sister Marjorie said. “We’re trying to do that with the church and the city working together. There is no competition among us.”
One of the difficulties in ending the homeless camps, Dillard said, is that well-meaning church groups will take a group volunteers to the area and bring in meals and drinks. A new ordinance makes clearer the city’s authority in ending the camps, specifically saying that no one can use furniture, sofas or mattresses to sleep in a public area.
“People are wanting to do good and bringing them food, but that, in turn, was causing a rodent problem and numerous public health issues,” Dillard said. “UNITY has come out and stated its support for it. The camps and tents are breeding grounds for violence, drug abuse, and, in general, it’s pretty detrimental to women and children.”
“We’re assisting in helping the city enforce (the ordinance) in order to provide better accommodations for those who are now on the streets,” Sister Marjorie said. The best way for people to help the homeless – rather than feed them where they are encamped – is to give financial donations to “the organizations who assist in the direct service to these individuals,” Sister Marjorie said. “We have worked strategically with the city to try to relocate each individual to a better place.”
Behind the scenes
During the August effort, CCANO offered travel vouchers for people to return to their hometown, “but there was a contact made from our end to the receiving end to ensure that the individual had a place to go,” Sister Marjorie said. “We also assisted in trying to help individuals get the identification they would need in trying to be processed for jobs.”
CCANO also purchased bunk beds for the New Orleans Mission on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard and 300 shelter vouchers for people to stay at the Salvation Army shelter. CCANO does a “vulnerability assessment” of each homeless person who seeks its assistance to see what the best course of action would be, Dillard said.
Several homeless programs
CCANO has several programs that directly serve the homeless population:
Voyage House provides permanent supportive housing and job training for up to 34 women who have been living on the street. “All the women have a service plan,” said Voyage House director Alecia Blanchard, administrator. “Whatever played a role in their homelessness, we address, so they won’t find themselves in that situation again.”
Baronne Street Housing is a shelter that offers transitional housing for women or men with their children. It can accommodate about 16 families. It is one of the few family shelters where men are accepted.
“We’ll get a call from a mother in a car with her three kids, and she wants to know where she can go,” said Bob Maus, administrator of Baronne Street. “We can’t take them immediately from the car to the shelter. We refer them to an emergency shelter, and from there they come to us.”
Rapid Rehousing for Families helps 30 families go from the streets into independent living apartments.
Bridges to Self-Sufficiency works with women and their children and assists in finding transitional housing for three to six months until the family can get back on its feet.
Ciara Permanent Housing works with men and women who have mental illness.
“We just want to make it known that the church is there and very engaged in the day-to-day needs of the homeless and helping them find something that is life-altering for them,” Sister Marjorie said. “It doesn’t happen in three hours. But some do turn their lives around completely.”
For more information on CCANO’s homeless ministry, call 523-3755 or visit www.ccano.org.