BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Dozens of adults, and a few children who once called the North Boulevard overpass home are now transitioning to more permanent housing, according to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.
"I couldn't ask for anything else. They're going to make me take another step in life," said Dale Hatfield.
Hatfield calls himself one of those lucky people after being homeless for over a year.
"I couldn't be happier," Hatfield said. "I can go lay down and look for work. That's a blessing because living outside is rough. You have to sleep with one eye open and one eye closed."
The mayor's office made initial contact with Hatfield and dozens more in February for the Homelessness to Housing Initiative as they were attempting to identify the number of people living under the overpass, also known as the Trevor J. Sims Memorial Bridge. The program began after a local developer requested to use the space to store construction equipment, so the mayor decided to not just move them, but add support.
"Not just displacing these individuals, but using a more compassionate approach where we would provide services for them, especially provide housing," said Mayor Broome.
The mayor said this initiative, funded through a grant by the Louisiana Housing Corporation, doesn't stop at housing.
"We had to provide a holistic approach. Meaning we're just not putting people from homelessness to housing without the social services that they need, the food, transportation and potential employment," Mayor Broome said.
The mayor's office created a coalition to fight the long-standing homeless issue. Mayor Broome said staffers and partners are connecting people to the housing community and employers.
Silas Thomas with the Start Corporation is helping those in need transition. He says this initiative is part of a larger plan to reintegrate the homeless into the community.
"They're looking for support, they're not looking to be thrown to the side and forgotten about," Thomas said.
The next step, according to city leaders, in creating a more self-sufficient community is getting them a job and showing them how to keep it, that's where Upift'd,a nonprofit, stepped in.
"A lot of the times we are that extra push to get out of the bed and show up for work. We hold them accountable," said Executive Director of the nonprofit, Nicole Walker.
Walker said they're getting rid of the barriers between the homeless and the employment industry while giving them a new stepping stone in life and creating stability.
"When someone is at work, they're off the streets and not trying to hustle. The effects are truly endless but the main reason is that it gives someone purpose and identity," she said.
Leaders said initially this program was focused on people living under the bridge, however, they have plans to expand into other areas of town to house the homeless.
The grant supports individuals in the program for 24 months, however, the mayor said one one individual becomes independent, they'll be able to put someone else in their spot.
The full list of organizations partnered are:
- Louisiana Housing Corporation
- Start Corporation
- Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless/One Stop
- St. Vincent de Paul
- It Takes A Village
- Options Foundation
- Way Home
- Christian Outreach Center
- Baton Rouge Police Department
- Volunteers of America
- Downtown Development District
- Capital Area Transit System
- Leo's Trailer Park
If you'd like to help, contact the mayor's office at (225) 389-3100.