In an area of town filled with older buildings, some dilapidated and in disrepair, the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless One Stop Center stands out.
It is a fairly new building—opened in 2011—painted in bright hues and surrounded by a metal fence. The grounds are fairly clean with only a few people loitering in the empty dirt lot next door. Inside, most chairs are filled with homeless clients who are appreciating a bit of shelter, or waiting to see someone about the services provided there. The room bustles with conversation and noise from the television, while the smell of coffee fills the air.
The executive director of the center, Randy Nichols, explains what the center offers.
“We have housing programs for a variety of folks. On the second and third floor are a total of 36 single room occupancy apartments for homeless people with disabilities, who we are able to rehouse directly from the street.”
Nichols says that he has seen a steady decrease in the number of homeless clients since 2009, and believes that CAAH and other programs in the area have made the difference. With organizations like theirs though, funding and resources are always an issue. It takes money to provide rental subsidies, which are the biggest help to housing the homeless.
“Baton Rouge has a tremendous shortage of affordable housing. And by affordable housing, I mean housing that can be accessed by low income or extremely low income,” Nichols said.
Nichols is proud of what the One Stop Center off ers, but says they can’t do everything. There is no kitchen at the Center, but they sometimes get donations and hand out snacks. There is also no clothing closet, strictly because of the space and manpower it would require to organize such a thing.
Nichols wants the citizens of Baton Rouge to know that homelessness is an issue that needs attention, and not to assume anything about the people on the streets.
“People frequently ask me ‘Aren’t there some people who prefer to be homeless and live on the street?’ This is not something they choose to do. They have no choices—or they have limited choices,” Nichols said. What he and the CAAH are working toward is ending homelessness. There are many organizations that work alongside CAAH to help reach this goal, but it is a constant struggle. They need help. They need Baton Rouge to see these people as humans in need, not just a faceless societal problem. So, DIG set out to meet some of them and learn their story.
Images: Mandy Samson