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Student’s Guide to Helping the Homeless on Chimes St.

By Greg Fischer

Charles Napoleon is one of many people who roam day and night near LSU’s north gate, on W. Chimes St.  He goes by “Nap.”  Nap is homeless.

            Last night, temperatures were in the low 40’s.  Standing thin, at about five-nine, Nap sports a dark scruffy beard mingled with grays, blue jeans, tan hiking boots, a black skullcap, and a blue fleece pullover underneath a black-leather jacket.  He speaks slowly.  “Last night . . . I got wet,” Nap says.  Nearing 50-years-old, Nap offers the listener insights such as these:

“Plenty people just see a black man.”

“I look inside of someone.”  Naps eyes move away.  “Even if I’m not looking directly at you, I’m still able to see you.”

“If someone says to me, ‘I’m fine!’ and then walks off when I ask them how they are doing, I tell them ‘God bless and have a good day.’”

            Three weeks ago Nap asks for $30 dollars, saying that the money will provide a shelter for him for two weeks and begin rehabilitation for him.  He also asks for a ride to the corner of Tennessee St. and E. Polk St., where he says he needs to go.

            Later, a police officer working the desk at Baton Rouge city police, Highland Rd. precinct, tightly built, in uniform, with a flattop haircut and a retainer in his mouth gets permission to speak with me about E. Polk St.  At first he refuses to talk at all.  His nametag reads Hunter.

            “You sure the shelter was on East Polk St.?” Officer Hunter asks.  “There’s no shelter on East Polk Street.” 

            Nap after all, offers a car wash in exchange for the $30 dollars.  The offer is foolishly declined.

            “These streets are hard,” Nap says on the drive to E. Polk St.  “Some of these people, man . . . Shooting . . . And stabbing . . . And fighting . . . It’s hard to make it on these streets.”

            It’s one o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday in this old neighborhood, and a group of eight or nine youths are gathered in front of one house.  “How you think my hands got like this?” Nap asks.  “I use them to defend myself.”

            A manager at Reginelli’s, on W. Chimes St., says Nap was hired to wash dishes, but he was let go because he had to leave early enough in the evening to supposedly check into a shelter.  Nap’s feet are afflicted with gangrene, too, so it’s painful for him to stand for long periods of time.  Nap says he walks to Earl K. Long hospital for a treatment every month.

            “All this tissue in my hands is also decaying,” Nap says, while demonstrating by pulling up a worn thumbnail without any sensation.  Nap’s hands are puffy like big, dark clouds, with dry open sores. 

            “Lotion doesn’t do any good,” Nap says.  “I’ve used all kind of lotion . . . I don’t usually show people this,” Nap includes, before revealing an awful rash underneath his right bicep.

            The week after meeting Nap and giving him money, he appears at work and asks for another $10 dollars—this time for a shave.  In return, Nap offers a pocket knife.  But the knife is sketchy, decorated with a confederate flag and four confederate generals, and is wrapped in a fast food napkin, and is refused.

            During the past two weeks, Nap has come around two or three more times.  A week ago, he asks for a bag of potato chips.  That night, Nap claims he’s from Alexandria and he has been in Baton Rouge for only three months.  Later, his ID reveals a Tennessee St. address, in Baton Rouge.

            Just yesterday, Nap enters the Reginelli’s bar, soliciting and thus disrupting the manager.  “I found this last night in Raising Cane’s parking lot, sterling silver.  Don’t you have a girlfriend?” he asks.  He holds a woman’s ring.

            “I don’t like pawn shops,” Nap says.  “You give them something, but when you want it back, they want more money than they gave you in the first place.”  Nap understands interest well.

            According to Officer Hunter, students should think before giving their money to someone.  “[The police] don’t bother with the homeless unless they are knocking on someone’s car or something like that,” Officer Hunter says.  “We have better things to do.”

            “My father says that he’ll feed [the homeless] but that’s it,” Officer Hunter says.  “My advice is to help them out, but they’ll ask for whatever they can get.  Most of them just want a little crack, or alcohol, so just use precaution.”  Officer Hunter says finally that his favorite is the guy outside of the Varsity Theater with the guitar.  He adds that guy has permission to be there.

            Fr. Cary at Christ the King Catholic Church says that the LSU based church doesn’t deal directly with the poor, too often.  “We try to refer them to a parish in their zip code,” Fr. Cary says.

            “There are centers such as the Christian Outreach Center, the Convention Center, and the Ecumenical Center that offer help.  Also, ever since Hurricane Katrina, St. Joseph Cathedral downtown hands out MRE’s.”  Father Cary says.  He also makes a suggestion to check out the Bishop Ott shelter.

            Moving on, in terms of classifying someone on the street, (some people call them poor, some beggars, some bums, some say homeless) what is politically correct?  The definition of “stigma” in the Oxford-English dictionary is: A mark made upon the skin by burning with a hot iron (rarely, by cutting or pricking), as a token of infamy or subjection; a brand.

            The U.S. Census Bureau uses the word “poor” to describe those living below the poverty line, so maybe that is the term to use.  Nevertheless, there are definitely real ways to helping the poor.  And guess what?  Real options don’t cost a thing, either.

            The U.S. census bureau does not measure homelessness by zip code.  In fact, the best they have to offer is a “special report” from 1999 for the 2000 census that focuses on the issue of poverty.

            According to the census report, 19.6 percent of Louisiana residents are measured to live in poverty, down from 23.6 percent in 1989.  Of the four regions in the country, 40 percent of the nation’s people living in poverty live in the South, but the largest number of people in America also lives in the South.  Notably, the city of New Orleans ranked seventh, nationally, of the top ten cities with the highest poverty rate at 27.9 percent.

            Moreover, the median annual income for Louisiana households is $37, 943.  The national poverty line for a household of two people under 65 is just above $11,000.  Maybe it’s not as bad as they say then.

            In Baton Rouge, there are 19 shelters total, according to the LA Department of Education website.  Some of these are geared to help people with specific disorders, such as mental disorders, alcoholism, and substance abuse problems.  Some are geared towards rehabilitating specific genders, youth, and people who have been living with abuse.

            Alvin Smith has been the executive director of a program called Youth Oasis since 2004.  “Youth Oasis,” Smith says, “is referred to by the state (child protection, Juvenile Justice, and Mental Health), for Runaway Homeless Youth, or R-H-Y.”

            The former name of the Youth Oasis shelter is Kaleidoscope, located at 260 S. Acadian Thruway.  Cool name.  Kaleidoscope was founded in 1997.  Its maximum capacity is 15 people, ages 10-17.  There are two wings in the building.  One wing has ten beds, for females, while the males have five beds in their wing.

            “Our census varies between five and eleven [youths] on any given day,” Smith Says.  “We can have three discharges and four admissions on any given day.  We currently have 6 youth in the shelter, but we could be at 10 by the middle of the afternoon.”

            Additionally, Smith explains that there is no charge to stay.  “We have a federal grant that pays for the RHY youth,” Smith says.  “The state youth are paid by the state.  We never charge either state or RHY youth to reside at Youth Oasis.”

            “Kaleidoscope is licensed as an emergency shelter, which means that the maximum that anyone could reside here is 105 days,” Smith says.  “106 days and beyond designates a ‘group home,’ which we are not.”

            Smith adds that Youth Oasis, if at full capacity, will actually provide a place to sleep for someone until a space is made available for them at the shelter.

            “We make a significant difference in the lives of the youth we serve, at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives.  And for many of the youth whom we serve, the only other alternative is the street,” Smith says.  “We make it a point to develop supportive relationships with the youth, so that the youth knows that wherever they are, they have people at Youth Oasis who care about them.”

            For adults, perhaps the largest shelter in Baton Rouge is the Bishop Ott Day Center/Night Shelter, located at both 1623 Convention St. and 2550 Plank Rd.

            Bishop Ott is a Catholic charity that sleeps a total of 56 single men and 36 single women with children over the age of five.  Carl Taylor, assessment counselor and night shelter supervisor, works at Bishop Ott going on 12 years.  Taylor is tall with a serious grimace, but with a warm heart.

            On a tour of the shelter, the time is three o’clock, so the dormitory style quarters are empty.  Check-in begins at four.  A group of men are gathered outside, waiting to be let in.

            The walls at Bishop Ott are painted gray and navy blue.  The furniture in the activities room does not match—some of it is old—but the TV is a new widescreen, with cable.  The room also contains three computers equipped with the Web.

            “It’s nice!  Bishop Ott is nice, man,” exclaims Chimes St. sketch artist, John Babun.

            Everything is in fact, impeccably clean, from the floor, to the beds (each one made up with blankets containing the Clinton-Massie Falcons emblem), to the bathroom facility.  Bishop Ott provides all the toiletries one man could possibly need.  Taylor says the shelter provides soap, towels, toothbrushes, razors, etc. to guests.  A sign reads “No talking after eight in the men’s dormitory.”

            Showers are individualized, too.  The best part is that it is all free.

            “We have a pharmacy,” Taylor says, “a kitchen, a dining hall, eight thrift stores, three shelters, a day program, a dental office, health care, a pro bono law firm . . . free, all free.”

            “Cases vary, people may need a couple nights until they can catch the bus to the next city or state,” Taylor says.  The Bishop Ott location on Convention St. is almost located right around the corner from the Florida Blvd. Greyhound Bus Station.

            “There are people who are down on their luck, people who have been burned out, waiting to get their funds in order so they can get into another place, people who have chemical issues, meaning that every penny they get is going to go toward that, which means they can’t get a place to stay,” Taylor says.  “We have everything we need here to be functional.”

            People can check into Bishop Ott from four o’clock to eight o’clock in the evening.  There is no drug or alcohol screening.  “To me,” Taylor says, “it is futile to do that.  Most clients or guests obviously have some other problems.”

            Taylor says that the shelter actually feeds lunch to as many as three to four-hundred people each day, seven days a week, with the help of high school Beta clubs, Scouts, and families.

            According to Taylor, unlike Bishop Ott, the Salvation Army Transient Lodge, located at 7361 Airline Highway, charges $7.50 per night and doesn’t allow you to store any of your belongings during the day.  Taylor says it can be hard for guys who are finding work at labor halls, which hire today and pay today, to have to carry luggage around with them.

            Friday, Nap does not show up to get the address to Bishop Ott from me at work, like he said he would.  Instead, he showed up at my doorstep yesterday for it.  I told him that’s about all I can do for him.  Later that night, he was still on Chimes St.

            “You can pass by someone on the street and think he needs a place to stay, and he doesn’t think that way,” Taylor says.  “The will to do what you need to do is the only thing we don’t give.”

**Below is a narrative slideshow of the places and faces in this article**

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Youth Vote a Potential Force this Election Year

By Greg Fischer, MC 4500

Just a few years ago, in fact only since the 1972 election year, have 18 to 20-year-olds been allowed to vote in America.  And yet, they don’t.

Today, the Youth Vote is generally referred to voters, ages 18-24.  Statistics show that an initial spike (meaning when young voters actually exercised their right to vote) occurred during the Vietnam War, in 1972, when it is believed that the voting law was changed over the military draft age being 18.  If only the same logic stood for the legal drinking-age?

But since 1972, 18-24-year-olds have gradually shown less interest overall in the political process.  This year however, the youth voter turnout will be much greater compared to the overall, historic timeline.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, released a study in July 2005, showing that in the 2004 Presidential Election citizens ages 18-24 came out to vote in numbers greater than even the 1976 Presidential Election.

In fact, 3 million more young people voted in the 2004 Presidential Election, compared to 2000.  The report however maintains that it certainly has yet to be seen if this is, in fact, a new trend, or rather merely a temporary spike.

I.  Celebrity Factor

In a close race, people say that John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential Election because Nixon refused makeup for the television screen at the 1960 Presidential Debate.  Of course, 18-year-olds could not yet vote in 1960, but young people pay attention to style today.  This can be seen at any “Indy Dance Party Night” at a club near a University, especially if you are refusing to turn on your TV these days.

Moreover, according to the CIRCLE study, another spike in young voter turnout occurred in 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected.  President Clinton is often considered attractive.

Now, be certain, in the current Presidential race Barack Obama is being called the “celebrity candidate.”  On the other hand his opponent’s running-mate, Sarah Palin, is not only the first ever female vice presidential candidate, but also a former beauty pageant winner.  The heat is on.

But wait a second, how did the number of youth voters spike so greatly in 2004?  Neither President George W. Bush nor John Kerry holds a torch in a looks competition with these other candidates.  Thus another question must be posed.

II. Why do we vote?

Historically, we vote for many different and often strange reasons.

Justin Ulrich, a fourth year PhD student in political science calls to mind the Chicago Political Machine.  During the Machine’s hay-day in the 1930’s, the phrase was coined, “Beer and a Ballot,” pertaining to a common practice when on Election Day it was perfectly legal for party members to hand out a beer or sometimes rum punch to voters granted they vote a certain way.

But Ulrich, a young voter, is yet nowhere near apathetic about American government.  An Obama campaign poster rests in his bedroom window, facing Highland Rd.  A native of Pennsylvania, Ulrich exercises his right to vote by sending in an absentee ballot.

Within the realm of Political Science, Ulrich is an American government specialist.  He studies economic voting, or how changes in the economy year to year effect which party that the actual voter will turn out and vote for, or against in some cases.  He has presented a couple papers, in Chicago and in Philadelphia.

“I think the idea we all like to have is, if everyone goes out and does what they are supposed to do, and vote, we’re going to have the best government that the people actually think that we should have,” said Ulrich.

He says that in swing states such as his home state, Pennsylvania, likewise in Ohio, that in 2004 a big push came to get the young voter involved.  But even with the spike that occurred, that it is still not nearly what it should be.

Dr. Herman O. Kelly, Manship School professor of Racism and Sexism studies in the Media and pastor of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 1358 South Blvd., says people have a responsibility to their community to vote.

Dr. Kelly "keeping it real"

Dr. Kelly

 

Dr. Kelly believes that in this Presidential Election, more people are going to vote to implement change.  “The younger generation is a visual generation,” said Dr. Kelly.  “The candidates that use internet sites to campaign are going to attract more votes from the youth.”

“People vote once they get educated that their vote counts,” said Dr. Kelly.

“I look at the people that died, especially African American people who died or struggled to win the right to vote so it’s almost like a burden that I have to carry,” said Dr. Kelly.  “When I don’t vote, I feel guilty.”  That’s a pretty good reason to vote.

“I think the Republicans know that they are in trouble,” said Dr. Kelly.  “They are doing whatever they have to do to keep their interests at hand.”

“Historically, we know that older, wealthier, and better educated people vote at higher rates because they are more likely to see connections between politics and their lives and the lives of their communities,” said Dr. Robert Kirby Goidel of the Manship School, as well as a professor in the political science arena.  This begs another question.

III. Does the youth vote matter?

“Potentially, the youth vote could decide the next President,” said Dr. Goidel.

Dr. Goidell, also director of public policy research, says that government is highly responsive to groups of voters.

“You can see clearly policy shifts, for example, in favor of older voters, who always vote at high rates, and when African American voters were effectively enfranchised.  If young voters vote in large numbers, it will make difference in policy.”

Two young people in particular, understand this all too well.

“The number of voters in the 18-24 age group rival the number of registered voters in the 65 and older group, which is traditionally thought of as being a very high participation group,” said Louisiana Secretary of State, Jay Dardenne.

Dardenne recently spoke in front of an LSU audience in the Holliday Forum, just before introducing a screening of the film 18 in ’08, released this year and centered on the youth vote.

The creator of 18 in ’08 is one guy who realizes the importance of voting by what Secretary of State, Dardenne, referred to as “the millennial generation.”  He is 19-year-old, David D. Burstein, a student at Haverford college in Pennsylvania.

Burstein is touring over 20 universities around the country before the coming election cycle, showing his film, getting young people to register to vote, and stressing the power of the youth vote as a whole.

“When I was younger, my parents would read me The New York Times and talk to me about current events.  My path down the road of politics found me debating the pros and cons of the 2000 Bush/Gore matchup over the sixth-grade lunch table and slowly becoming a C-SPAN junkie,” writes Burstein in one article.

The film lasts just over, or just under, a half-hour long.  Burstein says all he did was “cold call” to get interviews.  In fact, Burstein claims to have interviewed “over 60 Congressmen, Senators, presidential candidates, policy makers, activists…young and old.”  These interviews include faces such as Richard Dreyfuss, John Kerry, and James Carville.

18 in ’08 and Burstein have registered 23,000 people to vote.  Coming in October, Burstein will begin a similar program with the same goals called “Trick or Vote.”

Another young person who understands the importance of the youth vote is 21-year old candidate for Baton Rouge Metro Council District 12, Brett Jackson.  The next youngest candidate for Baton Rouge Metro Council is 28.

Jackson is a finance student at LSU and also a campus leader in the LSU student government as a senator.  After he graduates next year, he will begin working on an MPA—a master’s degree in government and non-profit administration.

Jackson is from LaPlace, LA and went to Jesuit High School in New Orleans.  He is an openly gay democrat.  He has a real chance, come the October 4th election.  He faces Jim Benham, former councilman, R.J. “Smokie” Bourgeois, owner of “Georges” restaurant, and Will Gladney, a physician, all three conservative republicans.

“[18-24] is statistically a very large voter block, almost as much as the ‘generation x’ voter block, so that if it was mobilized it would be a powerful force,” said Jackson.

“I think a lot of young people see the change as in their best interest.  A lot of the policies now are geared toward the older generation, the richer people, and it’s very hard for a young person to have accumulated so much wealth at a young age.”

So, despite MTV’s “Rock the Vote” and similar organizations often being considered a huge failure, no one feels like it is a bad campaign, in and of itself.  In fact, these groups, all easily accessible via the WEB, were praised by everyone interviewed for this article.

“The more people who register, the better,” said Jackson.

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