BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Imagine the only space you call home was cleared out, but in that same moment, you were told something bigger was in the works. East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's office has organized a team of providers who are working towards ending chronic homelessness in the parish.
"We want to approach them with compassion and dignity," said Rowdy Gaudet, assistant chief administrative officer for the East Baton Rouge Parish mayor's office. "When we transition them into housing, which is a change from the lifestyle they've been living, we want to be able to fully support that," he said.
The initiative is called Homeless to Housing. A group of non-profit organizations remove the homeless from unsafe and unhealthy living conditions and place them in an emergency shelter or permanent housing rent free for 24 months. "The idea is not to disperse their community, but approach them on an individual basis," Gaudet said.
This initiative is funded by the Louisiana Housing Corporation (LHC). The LHC received funding after the August 2016 flood that was focused on providing rapid rehousing, as well as permanent supportive housing to the homeless in the state.
Gaudet said the push for action started at the overpass on North Boulevard, also known as the Trevor Sims Memorial overpass, over a month ago. He said they have already identified 50 people who call the overpass home. "We're taking that list of 50 and we're going through them individually, seeing what their needs are, how can we fully support them," Gaudet explained. "To date, we've moved 13 people into a permanent housing situation."
But the plan to address the less fortunate doesn't stop there. Gaudet said the city will expand this outreach beyond North Boulevard to other areas. Among the many non-profits helping lead this effort is St. Vincent DePaul.
"It's not a criminalization of homelessness, but instead recognizing that we have to reach out to those that truly need that helping hand. By doing so, we are ending homelessness for individuals one person at a time. It tells a person that they are of value and that helps someone's self-esteem," said Michael Acaldo, director of St. Vincent de Paul.
Gaudet said once they perfect the transition process, they will consult with the non-profits assisting them to determine which area they will serve next. "These are members of our community, just as anyone else is. We really want to support them as best we can, the same way we'd do for any population in our community," Gaudet said.
Additional non-profit organizations helping in this effort are the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless, It Takes a Village, Options Foundation, Start Corporation, and the Downtown Development District.