A man is begging on the corner holding a tattered sign while you’re sitting in your car at a stoplight. You glance over to see a grocery cart filled with cans underneath a bridge and you simply drive by, acknowledging that these are remnants and faces of our homeless population. Do you ever wonder what had happened to him? Or where he will go?
As you ponder these questions, think about a famous quote by C. G. Jung, an innovative Swiss psychiatrist, “I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
Jung’s philosophy embraces the hopeful vision of the New Orleans Mission. As the Executive Director of the New Orleans Mission, David Bottner, explained, their ultimate goal is to help people who are hurting become fully devoted followers through rescue, recovery and re-engagement. This faith-based, non-profit organization provides homeless men and women a shelter for a period of time and encourages its residents to join the discipleship, a one-year program that is supplemented with substance abuse counseling and vocational training.
“There are no lines,” Bottner said. “Everyone who comes to the mission is hurting. They come in hopeless and we give them hope. We want to be able to meet their needs and provide medical services before it becomes life-threatening for them and the people around them.”
Located at 1130 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., the New Orleans Mission is recognized as one of the largest shelters in the Gulf South. It has doubled its capacity for housing women as well as creating several programs for men to get basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing, along with guidance and tools to establish a new life in the community.
In addition, the Mission is currently working on the construction of their 60-acre Northshore facility, called the Giving Hope Retreat. These accommodations are specifically dedicated to those men who need to complete the rest of the one-year program after their initial 60-day evaluation at the Mission. At the Giving Hope Retreat, the Mission has plans to build a separate 100-room unit for women, particularly for those who are sexually abused, and continue working on the other living center for veterans.
Healthcare for the homeless has also expanded within the New Orleans Mission, which has distinctively set them apart from other missions and shelters. “Six months after I got to the New Orleans Mission, we were able to set up an eye examining room and begin treating the homeless for multiple eye diseases,” Gary Crosby, a certified optician and a University of New Orleans business graduate, said. “These services are provided to those who live here.”
Eye exams are performed by Dr. Riley Sibley, a 1967 graduate and medical doctor with a comprehensive ophthalmology practice in Metairie. He volunteers his time and expertise at the New Orleans Mission once a week, with the desire to increase the number of patients coming in from the streets and other shelters. “We are under-utilized,” Dr. Sibley said. “I see a few patients per week in the clinic and treat disease as it presents itself. We have seen several cases of glaucoma and were able to treat it in the office.”
The New Orleans Mission Eye Clinic has been operational since 2014 and was funded by the New Orleans Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Foundation and supplied by Bayou Ophthalmic Equipment Company. “For years, I have wanted to go on a mission trip and the plans fell through. Then when I was given a tour of the New Orleans Mission, I realized that this was an opportunity to do mission work here at home.” Dr. Sibley said. “In late 2013, we began seeking help from the community to establish an eye clinic for the indigent population. We are now seeing clinic patients almost every week with a pretty good average of recovery.”
Other medical services offered to the homeless at the New Orleans Mission include chiropractic and foot care. Dr. Ana Cesar, D.C., owner of the Bywater Chiropractic Center, brings a portable chiropractic table to the Mission to treat her patients. “I wanted to help the homeless population because they are most often the ones who need chiropractic care but lack access,” Dr. Cesar said. “The past may have taken a toll on their bodies. I’ve been able to help people with chronic back pain, neck pain, headaches, migraines, asthma, arthritis, sciatica, jaw issues and postural issues. I see at least 90% improvement within three visits, sometimes only in one.”
In her second visit to the Mission, Dr. Cesar met a special woman complaining of severe hip pain. Then, while reviewing her medical history, Dr. Cesar realized that she also experienced daily headaches, usually four or five per week for years. After two adjustments, Dr. Cesar was able to decrease her headache pain to two episodes per month. Afterwards, she continued to follow up with two more sessions and the headaches disappeared. “It is stories and people like that who make me feel truly blessed to be able to serve the Mission,” Dr. Cesar said. “I continue to give my time because I love what I do for a living and want to share it with anyone who needs it.”
Included in the team of dedicated medical specialists for the New Orleans Mission is Dr. Robert Miles, Jr., a podiatrist and former United States naval lieutenant. He has always felt a compassionate need to serve and treat the indigent who may have a multitude of foot problems at the New Orleans Mission.
“Several foot disorders come through the door here at the New Orleans Mission,” Dr. Miles, who was originally from the Detroit, Michigan housing projects, said. “They include but are not limited to foot fungal disorder, diabetic foot infections, heel spur, corn calluses and nail complications due to nutritional issues as well as swampy conditions.”
Dr. Miles’ patients are provided follow-up monthly visits along with prescription medication regarding their recommended foot care treatments from several ancillary medical facilities, like Health care for the Homeless Simon Bolivar and Tulane Homeless Health care programs.
“February 8th, 2015 marked the one-year anniversary date of the Podiatry Clinic,” Dr. Miles stated. “I feel a sense of personal pride from the smiles and thanks of gratitude from the patients here at the Mission, knowing that someone cares. I understand the needs of these individuals, since I am currently a Veteran in Crisis, and am not a stranger to adversity that we all face as American citizens.”
In the face of distress, Gerald Fowler, a 57-year-old professional cook and recent graduate of the New Orleans Mission program, has overcome the hardship of living on the street for two years and the affliction of drug and alcohol addiction. “I had been a Christian, but lost my spiritual connection,” Fowler said in reference to his years spent homeless and hooked on his bad habits. “I was working to pay for my addiction. But, the Mission changed my life. I had to make sacrifices. Once I applied myself, I saw myself changing from the inside and then to the outside.”
Fowler walked into the New Orleans Mission in October, 2014, initially entering into the 21-day program, which allows overnight stay before leaving each morning. In one week, Fowler agreed to join the one-year program to participate in the permanent supportive housing, counseling and job training. Fowler worked as a chef under John Procter, director of operations of the New Orleans Mission. “He was my mentor,” said Fowler. “We worked hand-in-hand. He was my Big Brother and still is.”
In his journey to success, Fowler has now acquired full-time employment as a professional chef, began his training to become a deacon at his local church, and just recently got married. “I got married about two months ago,” Fowler said. ”I met her at the Church. The Mission wants you to choose a church. And I found the people at the Church were a key part of my recovery. God opened the doors for me.”
The New Orleans Mission has many more success stories to share, with even more people they would like to reach and help. The future opportunities for service at the New Orleans Mission are boundless. Bottner, the executive director, described the need for a dentist, orthopedic doctor and gynecologist. Furthermore, additional healthcare facilities are necessary for specific populations like women, children and the physically/mentally challenged. “We try to give them hope,” Bottner said.
For those who are working and living at the New Orleans Mission, H-O-P-E stands for Hold ON, for the Pain ENDS.