The New Orleans Women’s Shelter doesn’t just provide a roof, a warm bed and a meal. They work with clients and residents to address their individual and family needs, equipping them with the tools they need to move into independent living in their own homes.
No one plans on becoming homeless. Siobhan Smith certainly didn’t. But then:
“My landlord went up on my rent a couple hundred dollars and I couldn’t afford it with just the income I was getting, and so I had to leave.”
While Smith talks, one of her four kids, her youngest Carter, jumps and runs in the outdoor play area in their new, temporary home — the New Orleans Women’s Shelter. Her other children are at school. Smith found New Orleans Women’s Shelter by calling 211, who gave her a list of shelters. But when she walked into the Women’s Shelter, she knew she’d found home.
“Everybody was so friendly and non-judgmental, and they seemed like they were really in tune with the plight of the single female.”
Smith says it doesn’t even feel like a shelter. It’s more like a big house — which made moving her family there so much easier.
“At first I kinda felt like a bad parent, because we have to go to a shelter, but being here it doesn’t feel like that. Everybody — they either feel like an aunt or a sister to him, so I don’t even mind. I don’t mind him being here. It doesn’t feel like I did something wrong. I feel like I came into… a step into the right direction.”
“They come across the seal of the door and we want a new beginning for them” says Dawn Fletcher, the Executive Director of the New Orleans Women’s Shelter. “We want them to not think about being homeless because this is your home.”
Fletcher leads me past cozy rooms filled with couches and comfortable armchairs — all decorated for Halloween.
“So this is our education wing. We have our parenting classes that are held in here. We have this wonderful area for our kids to play in, and we separated it by age groups. So we have the infants over here, the toddlers there. And the older kids here.”
The room would make Goldilocks so happy. The games, toys and — of course — the furniture: they’re all the perfect size, no matter what size you are.
“We are a woman’s shelter,” explains Fletcher, “but we focus on the children because they’re innocent in this. It’s about families. Keeping families together, making sure that the moms are safe and secure. And the kids are not suffering through this transition period for the moms. So we do focus a lot on the kids, and making sure that they’re comfortable and they’re with mom, and she’s happy.”
Down the hallway, shelter manager Deidre Braneon, known to everyone as Ms. D., has her arms loaded with costumes.
Four year old Ciara, who lives at the shelter with her mom and brothers, explains, “They’re pulling out dresses for us for Halloween.”
Ciara tells me she wants to be a witch, but when she spies a pink princess gown, her costume plan changes.
“I want this one!” she declares, pointing.
“My hat calls for everything,” explains Braneon. “Maintenance, cooking all kids of stuff, grocery shopping, keeping order, like watching children, baby sitting. So today is costume issue.”
This is what New Orleans Women’s Shelter does. They provide whatever their residents need — from finding the perfect Halloween costume to finding a job, a school, or a doctor. It’s not about giving handouts, they tell me. It’s about giving a hand up.
Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about the New Orleans Women’s Shelter, click here.