As of 2019, there are 1,179 people who are homeless in Orleans and Jefferson parishes according to the City of New Orleans. That is a major decrease from the 6,500 reported in 2011. However New Orleans is still among the top 10 cities for homelessness in the US. Many factors affect homelessness: natural disaster, mental health, job loss, and a variety of other factors.
“We are all one step away from being homeless,” is a common phrase you will here at the New Orleans Mission. A longtime partner of our field in New Orleans, the Mission serves the homeless population of New Orleans through a wide variety of services. “New Orleans Mission and our partners are devoted to being God’s hands and feet in our region,” explains their website. “In addition to providing physical relief to those in immediate need of food, clothing, and shelter, we put a special emphasis on equipping those who want to experience real change with the biblical principles and knowledge needed to create sustainable solutions to permanently end addiction, abuse and homelessness. We’re committed to listening to the needs of every individual we serve and addressing the core issues that cause their circumstances, rather than treating symptoms with a temporary fix.” Some of those services include hot meals served three times a day, a medical facility where doctors donate a variety of specialties, clothing closet, chapel services, temporary housing, discipleship programs, and job training.
When volunteers come to serve, individuals who work for the Mission or are in their Discipleship program share their testimony. Some share about drug addiction, some about human trafficking, and some about disasters that changed the course of their life. CEO David Bottner explains, “When someone walks into our facility needing help or when we rescue someone from a dangerous place, we don’t see a homeless person, or an addict. What we see is a man or a woman experiencing a shattered life and a broken heart. We see one of God’s children hurting.”
Many of the staff at the Mission started in the Discipleship program themselves. Like the Outreach Ministry Coordinator Daniel Watts. CrossRoads has volunteered with Daniel to participate in Outreach for many years. During this program we assemble bagged lunches and take them out to an area where many homeless individuals live. But giving out food is not our priority, it is just the vehicle to allow us to talk to people, learn their stories, and pray with them. “They are people just like us,” a frequent volunteer Darrian often shares. “We aren’t just giving food, we are giving conversation. Many homeless people haven’t had a conversation in a long time. All they want to do is talk about their favorite color, or their hometown, or their family.”
Many are nervous about this part of their mission trip in New Orleans. It can be intimidating to walk up to a complete stranger and start a conversation. Once we leave, the most frequent comment is “I think I got more out of that than I gave.” The second most common is “I have to start doing this at home.” Homelessness is everywhere, whether you see it or not. Our purpose in volunteering with the New Orleans Mission is not only to reach the homeless population of New Orleans. It is also to inspire our volunteers to reach the homeless population in their hometown. Ask about your local shelters or community services, or search this directory of homeless shelters to find a place to volunteer near you.