“I made a promise to myself.”
Jacob has been through a lot in his young life, but his promise to keep going and improve his situation has kept him moving forward. Originally from Texas, Jacob came to New Orleans six years ago for Mardi Gras and never left after falling in love with the people and culture of the Crescent City. He is determined to stay in the city that captured his heart, and thanks to the efforts of staff member Jessica, Jacob was housed in May.
Formerly in the Navy and having served his country in Afghanistan, Jacob has faced and survived struggles with his emotional and mental health. He was in combat, though his main job overseas was working with steel and building bridges. After leaving the service in order to overcome his mental and emotional distress, he made promises to himself to keep going and improving his life. He is the process of getting back into school at Delgado in order to complete and earn his welding certification, which he feels is his calling. It is his dream to build and work on ships and boats. He works as much as he can and meets with the good friends he has made in New Orleans as often as possible. Things haven’t been easy for Jacob, but he fights every day to fulfill his promise of a brighter tomorrow.
Wandering no more
William is one of thousands who has served in the U.S. military but is currently homeless. “United States Armed forces, 8th Calvary, Support and Transport; you need it there, I’ll get it there,” William recited with such confidence that you can almost see him wearing Army green. Despite his service, he received a less-than-honorable discharge from the military for getting caught smoking a marijuana cigarette. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan where he was injured in a bomb explosion and he lost much of his vision. Despite this devastating injury during his time of service, William is not recognized as a veteran eligible of housing assistance by the United States Government because of one mistake.
Now, William is struggling – with help from the V.A. – to get the status of his discharge changed so that he may be eligible for V.A. housing and other assistance programs. In the meantime, he is the newest resident of the Tiny House located at the Rebuild Center, while awaiting permanent housing placement. He loves the security offered by the Tiny House. “It’s better than sleeping on the streets… You get all kinds of people who want to steal your stuff…”
William, as a self-proclaimed Navy brat, grew up on Military bases in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and elsewhere. He continued that transient nature into adulthood, and has a love for travelling. He has had many occupations over the years, and even has degrees in landscaping and biochemistry, but his wanderlust has kept him on the move for decades. He decided to come to New Orleans because he wanted to experience the Crescent City and life by the swamps. It is his goal to one day catch a gator, just to say he did.
“New Orleans is my home now. I don’t ever want to leave here.” Please pray for William as he is about to undergo eye surgery to recover sight in his injured eye.
Not all who wander are lost, and it looks as though this wanderer has found his place, and hopefully soon a real home, in the Crescent City.
Meet Brett, a long-time guest at the Rebuild Center. Sixteen months ago, Brett came to New Orleans from Iowa in search of work, but unfortunately soon found himself on the streets. However, thanks to the Rapid Rehousing for Chronically Homeless Individuals program a administered by Depaul USA in collaboration with the Harry Tompson Center, Brett will have his own place to stay for the first time in 23 years. He says that he is beyond excited to be housed.
The first thing he wants to do once he has stable housing is to find a part time job so that he can move forward in his life. Brett has three main goals after he moves into housing- to get a bike for
easier travels, a phone to regularly contact friends and relatives, and a television so he can watch the news and be more aware of what is going on in the world. To Brett, it is necessary to know what is happening in the world, and having a home will help Brett do just that.
A regular guest at the HTC who always manages to make the staff smile, you might recognize David from his interview with WGNO’s News with a Twist Kenny Lopez about the “tiny house” that he moved into in August. In the news story by WGNO, which you can watch by clicking here, you can see David’s first happy “homecoming” to the tiny house that he lived in for months, in the parking lot of the Harry Tompson Center. Now, though he is living at St. Michael Senior Housing and someone else calls the tiny house home, he hasn’t forgotten how living there for several months helped him get back on his feet, and he has plans to assist in building the next tiny house. “It was a come-up from the streets… I was able to close both my eyes and sleep for the first time in a long time.”
David was born and raised in the heart of New Orleans, and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, one of the several schools that had to be closed post-Katrina. After the death of his parents, unfortunate family circumstances left him living on the streets for the first time in his life. David has had a very versatile work history, but unfortunately he suffers from idiopathic epileptic syndrome, which makes it very difficult to maintain a job as there is no warning for his seizures. He jokes that he is destined to hit all the potholes in life- He claims that if there is one anywhere, he will find it.
Despite all the obstacles he has faced, David has still done his best to keep a positive attitude, saying that he does his best to not “carry stuff” from the past, going so far as to even forgive the circumstances that caused his homelessness. He says he has survived this long by setting small goals, and reaching them step-by-step. Furthermore, he focuses on the good things in his life, such as his pride in his daughter, who recently graduated.
He is very grateful to everyone at the Harry Tompson Center, especially to Executive Director Vicki Judice, because he feels that it is thanks to the help, guidance, and encouragement given to him by HTC staff and volunteers that he has made it to where he is today. Like his former high school, which is expected to reopen in the near future, David has begun to rebuild.
Curtis is a calming, peaceful presence here at the Center. Growing up in the Uptown Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans, Curtis got to know people from all backgrounds, “I don’t see color, I can feel who a person is.” He received his CNA certification and worked for many years at a nursing home, but the deterioration of his spine cut his career short and he could not make ends meet.
Tragedy struck when Curtis discovered that his family including his brother, sister and mother had perished in Hurricane Katrina. “There were many nights I spent walking up and down Tulane Avenue with tears streaming down my face. I wanted to give up when I lost my people; I was devastated. I remembered what my Grandma told us, though, that no matter what happens in life, hold on to God.” Curtis now has an apartment and is grateful to be off of the streets. With unwavering optimism and a radiant smile, Curtis declares, “With every breath, a new possibility is around the corner.”
Ten years ago Hurricane Katrina hit the City of New Orleans driving out thousands of people including one of our guests, Edward, who landed in Memphis, Tennessee. Despite being a Southern University college graduate with a degree in Criminal Justice, Edward struggled with homelessness for 8 years, both in Tennessee and in Louisiana.
After returning to New Orleans, Edward became a regular guest of the Center in October of 2014 when staff learned of his chronic homelessness. He shared that the hardest part about being homeless is sleeping. “Not knowing who is standing over you. And not knowing if a rat’s going to bite you. And the heat.”
Soon afterward, he became a participant in our Rapid Rehousing Program jointly administered with Depaul USA and made possible through a grant from UNITY of Greater New Orleans. He has been happily living in his own house in the 7th Ward since July of last year. What’s his favorite thing about his own house? “Having peace of mind. Being able to take a bath and read. Sit in the backyard and barbeque. And thank God I’m not outside in that heat.”
Edward spends his days looking for employment, going to church, watching movies, reading and counting down the days until August rolls around and Secondline season starts up again. His self-proclaimed greatest gift is his ability to sing. He loves to sing and hang out in Armstrong Park or at the Aquarium. He wants to be a productive member of the community and offers encouragement to others currently still homeless to “keep on pushing and don’t give up because there is help in New Orleans. When I came back, I had nobody but I stepped out on fate. Sure enough, this place helped me.”
Katie is a cheerful, humble young woman who grew up in New Orleans after spending an idyllic five years in Hawaii as a young child. Difficulties with her family over the years eventually lead to her leaving her home and living on the streets. While always outwardly sunny and personable, Katie says the biggest struggle for her living outside has been getting a good night’s sleep, and having to deal with a constant stream of harassment.
When asks what keeps her positive she says, “What keeps me positive is knowing that I always have tomorrow. I have a new day to look forward to and to me that is promising enough. Also seeing people happy and having good news always keeps me going.
Katie previously worked in housekeeping, gym maintenance and restaurants and has traveled extensively. She found herself most drawn to North Dakota and Montana because of the outdoor activities and peaceful atmosphere. Some of her hobbies include art, dancing, music, rock climbing, adventure, food and “just about anything enjoyable in life that there is to do!”
She says that the misconceptions of people living outside are that they are, “dirty, lazy, into drugs or criminals. Many of us just want to do good in life and be respected individuals. We don’t deserve to be disrespected or treated badly because we have no money.” Katie serves as an example of someone that deals with the daily struggle and stress of homelessness with grace and humility.
After living by the river for 4 long years, Mark recently moved into his own apartment after becoming a participant in our new housing program operated in collaboration with DePaul USA. One staff member described him as, “a gentle man, kind and unpretentious with much to teach us about life.”
Originally from California, Mark spent much of his youth growing up in Amite, Louisiana and has worked in many environments from a health spa, to an aquatic park to a bottling plant. His passions are many – beadwork, leather craft, writing, camping, gardening, art, and technology. Mark is also an accomplished poet and has written pieces for various Center events. He wishes people knew that “those experiencing homelessness may be facing many problems, but there is a humanity and awareness that come from being on the streets.” When asked how he stays so peaceful in an uncertain lifestyle Mark says, “Don’t hold grudges, be satisfied. Have tolerance, be tolerant. Return to the old ways, good ways of simplicity, organized effort. Encourage all.” Below is one of Mark’s works:
“I am a wall
Lean on me
Attach your ideas
Build on me
I have a foundation
Truth build me
And I encourage you
To rebuild me”
Robert, a peaceful, soft-spoken New Orleans native is a serene presence at the Center. He describes his upbringing as a happy one where his parents taught him to remain upbeat and positive. He has worked mainly in the hospitality and food industries. While Robert is currently homeless, he is positive about the future and says that there are many misconceptions about those on the streets, “People assume that you failed or are lazy. They don’t know my struggle. As Frederick Douglas once said, ‘without struggle there is no progress.’ I use that as my motivation”.
Robert’s passions include drawing, painting and listening to an eclectic mix of music. When asked what brings him to the Rebuild Center (where the Harry Tompson Center is located), Robert says, “I like the name ‘Rebuild.’ It’s rebuilding my life, not just on the outside, but on the inside. I feel like by coming here I have been cleansed.” Robert says he will continue to come to Center even when he has stable housing because he wants to give back. Robert remains confident about his future, “God always has my back. When one door closes, another one opens.”
Stephanie Charles, a New Orleans native from the Mid-City area, has lived an incredibly rough life. She describes her childhood as a chaotic one with extreme poverty, an abusive mother, and a rat-infested home. After graduating from Warren Eastern High School, she took up a variety of jobs from housekeeping to babysitting, to selling gift items with a local entrepreneur. In 2010, Stephanie became homeless after a devastating series of events regarding her section 8 housing and now sleeps wherever she can seek refuge for the night. While Stephanie was dealt a number of hardships in her life, her faith is unshakeable, “Keep your peace and trust in God.”
Fighting the Good Fight
Born and raised in Westwego, Veril is an incredibly brave man. Despite tribulations and heartache, Veril has continued to fight the good fight. He has worked in many restaurants over the years, but his failing health has not allowed him to return to the workforce after becoming homeless several years ago. Struggling with lung disease, diabetes,and the other aches and pains that come from living a hard life on the streets, Veril is unsure if his body would be able to handle a job. Furthermore, his inability to read has made it very difficult for him to get a job that does not require physical power, though he would love to learn and pushes himself every day to try.
Despite these challenges, Veril has remained hopeful while working with one of the HTC’s Case Managers, Jessica Lovell, to find permanent housing. For Veril, Jessica is a blessing and a guardian angel, and he looks forward to seeing her every day.
“She really is trying to help me get off that ground… It’s real scary out there, you don’t know if you are going to make it through the night.”
Though Veril has troubles with his health, he still expresses his love of cooking. He proudly claims that as a native to the GNO, he can cook anything, especially Cajun meals, and his favorite thing to cook is pot roast. Veril is currently in a temporary shelter after recovering from a stroke, and hopefully will be housed soon.