We met a woman last night, probably in her 50s, sitting on the front stoop of an abandoned building in Central City, widely considered one of the most dangerous parts of New Orleans. We work in Central City a lot, because dangerous places tend to be the areas most likely for our clients to seek refuge; whereas homeless people would be considered an eyesore on St. Charles Avenue, they’re virtually unseen in the blighted Central City area only 7 blocks off of St. Charles. Out of sight, out of mind – indeed one of America’s general strategies for addressing poverty.
The woman had a wheel chair loaded-down with personal belongings in three or four different suitcases. She also had a service dog with her that helps her to live independently despite her disabilities. The dog was a friendly golden retriever-type of mutt (as best I could make it out at 11:40pm), visibly smaller than my dog Max who is about 50 lbs now.
The woman’s story is that she just got off an Amtrack train two days ago. She took Amtrack from Lafayette, LA hoping to get to Pineville, LA where she says the V.A. is supposed to be putting her into some sort of housing for veterans with disabilities while she recovers from a medical procedure. Somehow, she ended up in New Orleans, a good three hours away from Pineville. When I asked how she came to a concrete stoop in Central City, approximately ½ mile from the Amtrack station and a half a block from a crack house, she said she was stranded until the V.A. arranges transportation the rest of the way to Pineville.
The story was confusing, but nothing in it is particularly outside the norm for our clients, and I expect it will check out to be fairly accurate. I dug a little further, asking about her V.A. contact in New Orleans. She correctly identified a social worker we’ve met who works at the V.A. in New Orleans and has spoken with Mike about facilities in Pineville in the past. She said that this social worker, upon hearing of her being stranded in New Orleans, attempted to arrange for her to stay at one of the two women’s emergency shelters in New Orleans, but was told that the shelter could not accommodate a woman with a service dog – apparently there is a grey area in the interpretation of reasonable accommodation that can allow for the denial of sheltering services for those requiring service animals in some circumstances. All this despite the fact that she says she was allowed to stay for a week at the Lafayette Salvation Army with the dog. I guess veterans with disabilities ought not expect uniformity of treatment across Louisiana, nor from sea to shining sea.
She refused my offer to get her to a safer part of town, saying she felt she would be okay due to the dog’s presence. She did accept a business card and agreed to come in or call the following morning so that we can arrange housing or transportation, whichever turns out to be most appropriate for her situation after conferring with the V.A. social worker. I left a voicemail for her V.A. social worker at 11am, stating the urgency of the matter, and provided both my office and cell phone numbers.
It is now 3:30pm. The woman did not make it into the office this morning. The social worker has not called.
I hope she was right about being safe with the dog. I hope she is alive. I hope to run across her soon and get her either to Pineville or into housing with the service dog she requires to live independently.
I should think a veteran deserves at least this much.