Due to the recent sweep of the homeless living under the Pontchartrain Expressway, local shelters have seen an increase in residents, fluctuating between 10 and 40 additional people a night. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the New Orleans metro area has the second highest homeless rate in the country. (Tampa, Florida is first.) On any given night, there are approximately 6,600 people living on the streets.
A downtown shelter that has seen a steady increase is Ozanam Inn, a place that has welcomed the homeless for fifty-eight years. Affectionately called “The Oz,” it provides a bed for 96 men and 40 more on “freeze nights.” Additionally, it provides hot showers, clean pajamas, and a free haircut. Women and children cannot spend the night, but they’re not turned away. They’re given Salvation Army vouchers for nearby accommodations. Yet everyone receives three hearty meals, clothing, counseling, and medical and legal services. While a bed on a cold night is a short-term solution, it’s not the ultimate goal.
Gail Ratleff is the licensed case manager with The Oz. She works closely with residents to provide the life skills they need to be independent. She trains in stages, giving counseling through the necessary steps of securing a job, creating a savings account, and being responsible for paying rent. “Once my clients are on their own, I still keep in touch,” says Ratleff, who has worked with over 200 clients. “What good is having permanent housing if you can’t keep it? The last thing we want is for our clients to fail. Success is getting up, going to work, and bringing home the paycheck because that’s what’s needed to stay off the streets.” People experiencing homelessness require intensive counseling and support services to regain control of their lives.
Currently, Ozanam Inn has one full-time licensed counselor and a full-time case manager. Through a partnership with the Taylor Foundation and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Ozanam Inn will have in place two full-time, Master’s level counselors assisting an additional 100 clients a year.
If you would like to learn more about this initiative, contact Richard Martinez, program officer with the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
[Pictured above, Ozanam Inn‘s Anger Management Life Skills first graduating class.]