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STM alumni work with area homeless

Staff+Writer+Grace+Miholic+interviews+alumnus+Taylor+DeBlieux+about+his+work+with+Acadiana+Cares%2C+whose+mission+statement+is+to+%22support+the+most+vulnerable+members+of+our+community+%E2%80%93+those+affected+by+HIV%2FAIDS%2C+substance+abuse%2C+poverty%2C+and+homelessness+%E2%80%93+as+they+seek+to+live+healthier+lives.%22
Staff Writer Grace Miholic interviews alumnus Taylor DeBlieux about his work with Acadiana Cares, whose mission statement is to

Staff Writer Grace Miholic interviews alumnus Taylor DeBlieux about his work with Acadiana Cares, whose mission statement is to "support the most vulnerable members of our community – those affected by HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, poverty, and homelessness – as they seek to live healthier lives."

Staff Writer Grace Miholic interviews alumnus Taylor DeBlieux about his work with Acadiana Cares, whose mission statement is to "support the most vulnerable members of our community – those affected by HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, poverty, and homelessness – as they seek to live healthier lives."

Grace Miholic, Staff Writer

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Within my state of Louisiana, the number of homeless as of 2017 was 3,305 people according to “Louisiana’s Homeless Population declines nearly 20% since 2016 according to HUB report,” an article by WAFB reporter Nick Gremillion of Baton Rouge. The homeless can seek many forms of help, but I decided to focus on one that STM grads work to make a difference. LiAnne Dick (‘15), an STM alumni, has been running a non-profit in the downtown Lafayette area since her freshman year of college in 2016. Every Thursday night, LiAnne and her group of volunteers have been providing food, drink, and a compassionate ear for homeless people.

LiAnne recounted what prompted her to start her journey in the first place, “I think what inspired me was all the people here at STM who are so loving. I just felt like I had something special and everyone deserves someone who cares about them. When you come to STM the teachers care about you and they want to help you become a better person. I’m just passing it on.” With this mission in mind, she works every week to provide a friend for some of the homeless people who come to eat.

LiAnne begins her preparation with contacting the family who will be cooking for the week. She also works with Great Harvest, who donates bread weekly. She relies completely on those who volunteer their time and food. “I can go out of town and know that people will be there. I have such an amazing group of people. I know one day I’ll have to pass the torch, but I know it’ll be in good hands.” The night begins with grace, which the homeless clients lead, and then the serving begins. After serving however many people are there, many of the volunteers walk around and socialize with the people there. LiAnne explains that “I want them to know that someone is there for them, that there’s something more than what they have now.”

Jason, a Thursday regular, tells his story after his spaghetti dinner: “I came from Ville Platte. I thought, ‘Let me go somewhere I can find more help.’One of the reasons I came to Lafayette is because my kids are here. My son goes to UL. When me and my wife got divorced and I lost my job, I couldn’t afford the house. I closed the house and I put it in my kids’ name so they could have a place. I haven’t seen my son in almost a year. I talk to him regularly, but I haven’t seen him. He’s busy with school and work. I also have a daughter who is eighteen; she’s the younger of the two.”

He explains: “You can have a home and still be homeless. For me, being homeless is more of a choice. I have other places I know I can go, but it takes me away from my kids. They listen to the words that their Dad has given them and they’re making me proud.” Even though he is homeless he gives back to his community. “I volunteer at St. Joseph’s Diner because they need servers.” While volunteers are constantly working, Jason is ready to lend a helping hand in and out of the diner. “I try to help out. If I got it, I give it. I gave about twenty blankets that I got from other people during the freeze to others who needed it.”

Though Jason is in the local men’s shelter, he also realizes that some homeless people are not, some by choice. “There are a lot of people who don’t go to the shelters. They’ve been out on the streets for so long that they feel institutionalized. They can’t handle it.” He continues saying, “I’m not on drugs; I don’t drink. It was just bad luck. It started about two years ago when the oil field started to decline. Jobs went away. But would I change it? I wouldn’t change the way things went. The events in my life have brought me to who I am, what I do, and the people I help.” Once we finished our conversation he adjusted the hat that a nine-year-old boy gave him earlier in the year, and heads back to the men’s shelter for the night.

Later in the evening I spoke with another man who stays in the men’s shelter with Jason. James Clay began his story with showing me a video of kittens he saw on Facebook. “It reminds me of the cat I used to have; he would sleep with me every night. Good ole Fat Bag. I grew up on the farm in Panama City.” He said that he was making his way to Arizona, but was stopping in Louisiana to visit his brother. “I wanna go to Flagstaff. I wanna go to the Grand Canyon itself. Been wanting to since I was a little kid. My momma said that if I put my mind to it, I could do it. I put my mind to it and I’m halfway there. I started in Panama City. My brother said he’d have a truck for me May 1st. I’m gonna camp in the Grand Canyon for three or four months. I’m gonna camp and go fishing.” He says that with a smile, reminiscing of the time he would fish on the beach of Panama City to feed his family.

As he looks over to the now-empty table he changes the subject saying, “Sometimes they have banana nut bread. They don’t let me leave without a loaf. I get back to the shelter and they smell it. They say ‘You got banana nut bread?’ and I say yeah and we eat it.”

He speaks of his brother and how he occasionally cooks for him, some of the only close family he has left. He says how his brother can cook like his mom used to. “I buried my momma here eighteen years ago. I’ll be forty-six this year and I didn’t think I’d make it past thirty. I went through smoking crack cocaine. I had a felony warrant in Panama City, dropped to a misdemeanor if I kept my nose clean. By the grace of the good Lord I made it three years. Now I’ve got five grandbabies back in Panama City. My kids are taking care of them. I raised them good.” As he prepares to leave he says, “It might be awhile before I get to the Grand Canyon, but I’ll get there. And I’ll come back and tell everybody.”

All around the world homelessness is an issue that affects a large amount of people. According to homelessworldcup.org, 1.6 billion people did not have housing. This problem has been addressed within their own countries, America relying on different organizations to lift up the nation’s homeless. In 2015, the homeless population was 564,708. While this number is decreasing, it is still a problem.

Worldwide, there is a push for an end, or at least improvement to homelessness. One organization is the Institute of Global Homelessness. Their motto mission is stated as follows: “The Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH) supports an emerging global movement to end street homelessness. As a first step toward achieving this goal, we are working with key global strategic partners to eradicate street homelessness in 150 cities around the world by 2030. Our vision is that within a generation we will live in a world where everyone has a place to call home – a home that offers security, safety, autonomy, and opportunity.” Within the U.S. there are are many charities popping up addressing homelessness. One specifically being nationalhomeless.org their mission being: “The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission: To prevent and end homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected.” Efforts to end homelessness are alive and well, shown in these organizations and also through others like it.

Taylor DeBlieux (‘05), also an STM alumni, has been working with the homeless for years. While his official position at Acadiana Care is housing case manager, he likes to call himself “the guy on the streets.”  His job for the past two years has been to aid some of the homeless in being housed.

“Initially I was in school at UL… I moved to New Orleans to pursue music. I lived in mid-city and my house was one of the only ones habitable after Katrina, so most of my neighbors were squatters. There were abandoned, condemned buildings, but they were full of people from around the world. My friends turned into these colorful characters. So when I went to go back to get my degree in sociology I catered my curriculum to what could affect the homeless population. While I’ve moved out of town this will always be home for me, and there is a job for me here. I wanted to give back to my community.”

“When someone is being housed it could be a life-changing experience. I often have to help with that because they don’t know what to do. We solicit furniture, appliances for them. Otherwise, It’s not really a home; it’s a house. We have to kind of wean them into living a normal life. If I can find them work, I find them work regardless of their background. They have to get out of that cycle of being helpless.”

“I have to establish months and months of rapport to get these people to trust me. I’m not a cop; I’m here to help you. I consider any advancement in their mental health a success. I haven’t had people go back to school or start a family; this isn’t like a weight loss story. I just think that any small step forward is a success.”

A group of local organizations working together to end homelessness in Lafayette is ARCH. This is a group that LiAnne has been working with. ARCH is a group of “nonprofit homeless service providers, victim services providers, faith-based organizations, governments, businesses, advocates, public housing authorities, school districts, social service providers, mental health agencies, hospitals, universities, affordable housing developers, law enforcement, homeless and formerly homeless persons…. And YOU!” Through organizations like this and others both nationwide and locally there are many ways to get involved. While homelessness is an issue far from being resolved, small non-profits and large nationwide projects are slowly but surely chipping away at it.

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STM alumni work with area homeless