Veterans housing program allows freedom

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 17, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

LAPLACE – A local charity, Housing Outreach Ministries, aims to provide an affordable, independent living option for displaced war veterans in the River Parishes.
The program is based in St. Charles Parish but is currently working to expand services to all three parishes. Director Lisa Carey, of Lisa Carey Realty, said the program offers veterans a unique chance to regain their footing in society with the help of a shared living situation, much different from a VFW hall or veterans’ home. Carey said that participants can come from any area.
Participants would live in a three-bedroom, one-bath unit and split cost of living expenses. Carey said the program has a one-week turnaround time from application to move-in. Each shared-living unit costs between $600 and $700. Furniture is provided.
“It’s totally different. A VFW hall fulfills recreational needs, but we fulfill housing needs. They’re independent living, therefore the family can come, and they may even have a chance to have an overnight guest. They can leave and come back. They’re not just confined to living there with the rules that we’re going to take care of them,” said Carey. “We don’t give medication out. We don’t make appointments for them. This is more therapeutic, a home setting — an alternative lifestyle with a lot of camaraderie.”
Camaraderie is the defining factor of the program. Carey said participants can use their living situation to advise each other and share mutual traumatic experiences, forming a bond through peer counseling. The program currently offers a food bank, gardening therapy, horseback riding, religious services and a job placement program. Carey said more collective services such as transportation and group therapy can be added once the program garners more participants.
“When they live together in that unit, they’re able to help each other with that camaraderie to share job ideas or use the computer together. Everybody works in a commune type situation,” she said.
Seventy-year-old James Johnson began working with the program after meeting Carey in church in 2006. Johnson said their meeting was “nothing but the grace of God.” At the time, the Vietnam veteran had been living on the streets under the General De Gaulle bridge in New Orleans for about a year because of massive losses during Hurricane Katrina. Johnson said word of mouth is still the “best marketing tactic” since he was introduced to Carey by a friend that was also homeless.
Johnson said life on the streets was even harder than serving in the war and that the peer-counseling method of the program was inspired by his experiences living on the street.
“The war wasn’t nothing compared to survival out here. The only comparison I can make is if someone is getting out of jail,” he said. “Everything was in chaos. I saw some things I didn’t see in the war, but that was the makeup at that time. Everyone was traumatized,” he said. “Basically, most of the time we didn’t eat. But when we did, it was because somebody shared, through camaraderie we formed. That’s what kind of inspired this idea,” he said.
Johnson shows his support by helping to counsel program participants. He said Housing Outreach Ministries is helping to alleviate some of the “red tape” that veterans go through in American society.
“You’re dealing with hurting people and people that have basically given up on life. Once you’ve been there, you can empathize,” he said. “Veterans go through so much during and after the war. What we’re trying to do is attend to the immediate needs and give them the opportunity to do on their own what relatives can’t do for them. You’ve got to be able to have your own in order to survive.”
According to Carey, Housing Outreach Ministries still has has 21 vacant spaces. For more, contact Carey over the phone at 504-340-3429 or 504-333-0614 or by email at