Ms. Dorothy and Her Hat

| May 1, 2018 | 0 Comments

Ms. Dorothy, wearing her trademark hat.

Today, on GiveNOLA Day, I ask you to think of Ms. Dorothy Harris — and all the vulnerable homeless New Orleanians that the UNITY coalition is working very hard to house.

Ms. Dorothy Harris is a New Orleanian through and through. She grew up in Gert Town; she and her husband worked hard all their lives. Yet she ended up on the streets of our city, one of the many disabled people living homeless here.

I believe that what makes New Orleans so dear to our hearts are the people. People with genuine affection for one another – people who celebrate life to the fullest despite hardships.

Though Ms. Dorothy is hobbled and uses a walker to get around, she continues to greet everyone she meets, like her parents taught her growing up.

A hat, given out of kindness
One day, after she told a young man “Good morning,” he handed her a bright, colorful hat.

The hat looks great on her, of course. But to her, it’s also symbolic. It makes her feel good inside. It means that someone saw her, not simply as a homeless person, but as a person. As a fellow New Orleanian.

These past few years haven’t been easy for Ms. Dorothy, who has been living on the streets of the Quarter for a few years now. People with ill intent see her as an easy mark: she is petite, she’s sick and she’s frail.

On the street, she’s a target
So her possessions are often stolen. Her phone. Her blankets. Her coat. Even her shoes.

Early one morning, an angry, inebriated man couldn’t stand the mere sight of her sitting on the sidewalk with her walker. For no reason, he walked up and punched her, leaving her with a black eye and a broken tooth.

Sometimes petty thieves will grab the prescription pills Ms. Dorothy takes religiously for the schizophrenia that she was diagnosed with as a teenager—despite living on the street, she has always kept up on her medicine.

When exhausted, her mental health declines
These days, sometimes her condition is exacerbated, because she can’t sleep soundly enough on the street, her doctor tells her. At those times, she’ll sometimes wake up and see visions of people.

She’ll see her father, who worked all his life on the river, at the Port of New Orleans’ Public Grain Elevator at Napoleon-Nashville. She might see her brother, who died in January with her at his bedside. Sometimes it’s her husband, Tony, a welder at Avondale Shipyard whom she married as a teenager and stayed with until he passed away several years ago.

Without them, her world got smaller. So a few years ago, when she was diagnosed with a few different cancers, she didn’t have an automatic place to go. Unable to work, she lost the apartment with the $600 rent that she’d kept on Jefferson Highway. In this city with its rising rents, she couldn’t find any place else she could afford.

How UNITY is working to house Ms. Dorothy
But after two years, she is tired. She’s weary of life outdoors.

As you read this, her UNITY outreach worker is working with Ms. Dorothy’s assigned case manager, from a UNITY member agency called Start. Soon, they will get her into an apartment that comes with a permanent rent subsidy and ongoing supportive services to help her manage her physical and mental illnesses.

If all goes well, she might move into her new place on GiveNOLA Day!

The beauty of the UNITY collaborative is that, as we work to house people like Ms. Dorothy, we are able to pair the work of our outreach team with the right case-management and support agencies that can help people stay housed and happy.

Seeing the best of New Orleans during the cold snap
It makes me cold just to think of what Ms. Dorothy went through this past winter. We know how frigid it was. But Ms. Dorothy wouldn’t go into a crowded shelter because her mental state was too fragile. So outreach workers and neighbors in the Quarter gave her blanket upon blanket. Workers from the hotel across the street made sure she had soup and hot cocoa to drink.

“It touched my heart. It showed how people care,” she said.

How to help
Please, if you are able, show that you care about New Orleanians like Ms. Dorothy who have fallen on hard times and cannot afford to pay the unaffordable rents in our city.

A GiveNOLA gift to UNITY of whatever amount you can afford will help make sure that vulnerable people are not shunted aside but are fully included in our community with the housing and the services that they need.

This year, your GiveNOLA gift will be doubled – through a $20,000 challenge gift from the UNITY leadership that will match gifts up to that amount, for a total of $40,000 to keep this vital work going. Give today by clicking here and help provide all the things that Ms. Dorothy and other vulnerable people need to get off the streets.

Thank you so much for your generosity and compassion.

With sincerest thanks,


Martha J. Kegel, Executive Director

P.S. If you give by midnight tonight, you can help end the homelessness of hundreds of children and adults who are also vulnerable like Ms. Dorothy, by giving here to UNITY – the organization leading the charge to house as many homeless New Orleanians as possible. Please make your GiveNOLA gift before midnight tonight!

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