Homelessness: A growing problem in the Capital City

Homelessness: A growing problem in the Capital City
Photo provided by staff

POSTED: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 10:00pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 10:04pm

Literally hundreds are living on the streets of Baton Rouge each night. Some go days without a warm meal.

"I have a sleeping bag. I sleep in my sleeping bag, and that's how I survive."

Jonas is 60 years old. He's looking for work and a place to live. Right now, he stays where ever he feels safe.

"In the woods."

Jonas gets $700 a month from Social Security, but it's not enough to cover housing and living expenses.

"Right now, I'm trying to get housing with Council on Aging and the housing authority."

To make matters worse, finding work is difficult for Jonas because he has been convicted of Theft.

"I stole things to survive. Now, I don't need to steal things to survive. They're helping me financially. I have income, but what I basically need is somewhere to live."

There are local services offered to the homeless, such as the One Stop Services Center at the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless. Executive Director Randy Nichols says the center tries to connect people to the services and shelters that'll help them.

"We offer day services, a place to pick up mail, a place to hang out during the day, and a place where they can take a shower, use a telephone, wash their clothes, and use a computer," stated Nichols. "On any given night, we have about 1,000 homeless people on the streets of Baton Rouge, and we have about 250 emergency shelter beds on any given night."

Over 100 of those beds are located at the local St. Vincent de Paul affiliate.

"Those beds are geared to help men, women and women with children. People that would otherwise have nowhere else to turn for help," stated Executive Director Michael Acaldo.

Acaldo also said that a hot meal is another service that St. Vincent de Paul strives to provide each day.

"Last year, we served 236,000 meals to the poor, the homeless - people who have nowhere else to turn for the most basic necessities. This year we're on pace to meet or exceed that number."
The diner has been open 365 days a year, feeding hundreds every day for the past thirty years.

"We want to help people break the cycle of homelessness."

With all the services being offered to the homeless across Baton Rouge, sometimes a helping hand isn’t enough; some of them look to a higher faith

Many homeless people turn to the church to help them get through the next obstacle, including finding the next meal. This is the reason that St. James Episcopal Church and Reverend Mark Holland decided to help feed the hungry by starting several feeding ministries.

"One of them originated from a couple of lay people in the Parish. After Katrina, somebody knocked on the door at the church and asked for something to eat," stated Holland. “Boots and Warren Greene asked if they could make little bags to hand out to folks, and I said ‘Sure’. That kind of grew."

"They have an open door policy for giving out little snacks, the bags in the morning for you," said Jonas.

Volunteers fill those bags with water, cookies, crackers and other nutritional items.

They hand out nearly 50 “We Care” bags six days a week.

"It’s a major part of who we are at St. James,” said the Reverend. “It's important that for those of us who are blessed with so much, much is expected."

St. James also holds a fifth Sunday breakfast for the homeless and provides a food bank on the first and third Wednesday of the month to help feed the working poor who are able to work, but just can't make ends meet.

"I'm really proud of my Parish for taking that on, and I'm really proud for them to do what they were called to do by their faith. Our Lord Jesus said, ‘If you love me, feed my sheep.’

The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank strives to feed the hungry every day.

"The food bank feeds the hungry wherever they are,” stated Charlene Montelaro with the GBRFB. “For the homeless, that is just a little more challenging, because they're so vulnerable. Things that we take for granted every day mean so much to somebody who really needs it."

The food bank works with 130 companies to make sure donated food items get to those in need. They can provide five meals from each dollar donation they receive.

"There's always somebody that wants to help another person, you know. Despite the evil that goes down in our day and time, there's always someone who wants to help another person," said Christine, a homeless woman.

Christine also turns to her faith to help her get back on her feet.

“I'm homeless… but I'm not hopeless. I am who I am and it is what it is. I trust the Lord with everything."

She wants to get back on her feet and regain custody of her children, who she thinks about often.

"Everyday. Everyday. Everyday. It's like they burn - they're etched in my heart. They are in my heart and I just...I love my mother. I forgive myself, I forgive her, and I know that I have not been the best mother or daughter, but I love my children dearly."

For now, Christine continues to lay her head down each night where ever she can find a safe place.

"It gets really old sleeping on concrete every night. It gets old. You just lie and wait for that next blessing - that's all you can do."

For more information on how you can help the homeless in Baton Rouge, check out the following links:

Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank
St. Vincent de Paul
Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless

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