As a board member, Dr. Jack Andonie is working to raise a half-million dollars to fund operating expenses for Hotel Hope, a homeless shelter to be located in Broadmoor in the former St. Matthias Convent.
“Thinking about women and children living on the streets really bothered me. It really got to my conscience,” the retired physician said. “As an OB/GYN doctor, I want a home for every woman on the streets with children.”
Hotel Hope, an interfaith nonprofit, wants to move New Orleans closer toward that ambitious goal. The 1960s brick building on the grounds of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church will be able to accommodate 40 family members for an extended period of time.
“There were places for single men and single women, but not families,” said Mary Lou Specha, a Presentation Sister who serves as executive director. Although several shelters exist in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, some separate adolescent boys from their mothers.
“There are probably less than 50 emergency beds for women with children. It is difficult to have a baby outside in the middle of the summer,” Specha said.
Poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked. Life crises, such as a job loss, health problem or family conflict, can cause homelessness.
“The issues are endless,” Specha added.
Public funding is available for homeless families, but can take up to six weeks. Hotel Hope will be able to fill the gap plus provide other support services, including counseling, health care and meals.
Hotel Hope plans to move families from homelessness to self-sufficiency through a three-stage service model, involving crisis intervention services, residential stability and assistance in achieving economic self-sufficiency, such as getting a GED or job training.
The Catholic Archdiocese gave Hotel Hope a 15-year lease for $1 per year. Approximately $700,000 in private funds has been raised in addition to a $100,000 affordable housing grant. Because the building was used by Catholic Charities for a women’s shelter before Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is supplying substantial funds to renovate it.
“It is a pretty phenomenal gesture on the part of FEMA — a real blessing to us,” said the Rev. Dennis Hayes, pastor of Blessed Trinity Church.
The Broadmoor Improvement Association already had plans to create a Fine Arts and Wellness Center next door, so the decision to approve the shelter was a “no-brainer,” said Emily Wolff, association president. Families in transition can take advantage of the center’s health and recreational services as well as activities at the Rosa F. Keller Library across the street.
“I loved it the first time Mary Lou came to me at the community meeting. The response was resounding support,” Wolff said.
Hotel Hope will be designed along the concept of a bed and breakfast, including shared dining, living and children’s play areas as well as an outdoor deck and garden. Every bedroom will offer a sink and two sets of bunk beds to allow families to stay together. The comforting, homelike atmosphere will communicate “dignity and respect,” inviting people into a “journey of wholeness,” Specha said.
The structure of the building has good “bones,” said Timothy Lupin, project manager with Mathes Brierre Architects. “We’re looking at taking this building and making it shine again.”
The need will still be great. Currently, half of New Orleans households headed by women with children under 5 have incomes below the poverty line.
“If there’s 300 beds that we need in the city, we shouldn’t settle. This is just the very beginning,” Andonie said.