In Central City, not far from the Superdome, a supportive housing program is providing stability, compassion and hope for chronically homeless people as they rebuild their lives.
Pebie was in her mid-30s when she started using crack cocaine. The drug would eventually drive her away from her family, away from her home in Birmingham, Ala., and into an increasingly desperate situation in New Orleans, where she finally landed on an odyssey of addiction.
“I have no family here in New Orleans,” she says. “I just came here to escape from my kids, I didn’t want them to see me on drugs. I didn’t want them to see me like that and I came here not knowing where to live, where to go or whatever.”
Hounded by crack, she became homeless and was wasting away. At one point she weighed just 76 pounds.
“And it took me to look in the mirror to see that I was just, you know, just drawn away, so I made up in my mind that this is not me, you know?” she remembers. “I know I’m better than this. So I decided you know just to get help.”
She found help from Progressive Baptist Church and its homeless outreach ministry. The church, first founded in 1895, is in Central City, just across the highway from the Superdome. Here, it operates its McCaleb Supportive Housing Program, which offers a home base where people can rebuild their lives.
“We have what you call in New Orleans chronically homeless, and the chronically homeless, like the individuals you may see under the bridge,” says church pastor Willie Gable, who is also executive director of the McCaleb Supportive Housing Program.
“We’ve been able to take individuals who were chronically homeless from that setting, from that environment, give them a place to stay, a place to call home, and their whole attitude and perspective changed, because of the place that they were living,” he says.
From its start providing emergency housing, the McCaleb program has evolved into a support network to address the root causes that lead people to the streets. Today, its clients are linked to supportive services, from addiction counseling and mental health therapy to job training.
“Some people say, alright you have a person who is dual diagnosed, with two problems, two issues or challenges in their lives,” says Gable. “We may get an individual who is quad diagnosed, they’ve got four issues. It might be substance abuse, mental health issues, HIV/AIDS, all of those things they are dealing with, but they have a place to stay so that provides some stability in their lives.”
For Pebie, that stability has made all the difference, says her case manager at McCaleb, Myra Banks.
“She’s been sticking around and we’re looking forward to moving her on up and climbing that ladder, because there’s no stopping you know,” says Banks.
Today, Pebie is 44. She has a home, she’s back in touch with her family, and she’s studied at a local occupational college to prepare for a career in healthcare. Her life still includes help from the McCaleb program to deal with her past, but now, it also includes hope, and plans for the future.
“I still want to go back to college because I really want to do radiology,” she says. “It’s going to get better for me, as long as I just keep God and faith with me I’ll be alright.”
Learn more about the McCaleb Supportive Housing Program at www.theprogressivebaptistchurch.org.