BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – 57-year-old Michael Washington has been stuck in transition for years, and for once it’s finally starting to make sense. For many people like Washington, homelessness is not an accident or a moral failure as some may see it, instead, it’s often the result of an unfortunate life event.
“It’s hard, ma’am, but in every struggle there is relief. I came out of prison, that’s how I got homeless, you know,” said Washington. “Then I got out and got back on drugs. I got tired, and I wanted some help. That’s how I came to Baton Rouge where I don’t know anybody, nobody knows me and I’ve been clean for six years.”
Kirk Boutte and his wife lead It Takes A Village BR, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding those experiencing homelessness, or as they call them “villagers.” The organization has been feeding the community every Sunday for the last six years, rain or shine. And they’ve never missed a Sunday.
“We give them a title, we give them entitlement, we give them something to inspire them that they are more than what people think they are,” said Boutte.
In his experience working with this community, Boutte said there’s more than meets the eye.
“They’re not all homeless, this is definitely a poverty issue that attacks the community. They have gotten stuck somewhere, it could be anything, they have no support system,” said Boutte.
Studies show those experiencing homelessness are often seen as unredeemable. Washington, who has since moved into his own apartment, sees it differently.
“What is homeless, everybody is homeless, to be honest with you. You can go home right now and your home is on fire, you’re homeless now. So it could happen to anybody, everybody got a story. We all need help in every way,” said Boutte.
There is growing concern and frustration over the number of homeless camps appearing across Baton Rouge. Boutte said you can’t fix the problem without addressing the problem.
“Most of the time when they have these gatherings and these meetings to talk about the issue, the main people talking aren’t affected by this issue,” said Boutte.
This issue is something Chief Administrative Officer of East Baton Rouge Darryl Gissel said the mayor is committed to fixing but he admits it can’t be done overnight.
“What we’re seeing in Baton Rouge is no different than other cities across the country,” said Gissel.
For this, the city has created the Homelessness Outreach Team (HOT) to tackle the growing need.
“Law enforcement officials and outreach people, social workers, mental health caseworkers, who can actually go in and try and help. It takes a little bit of time to go in there and try to work with people and have them accept services. Each one of these situations is very different,” said Gissel.
While the city works on providing resources and helping this community become more self-sufficient, Boutte said it’s simple, a little bit of kindness goes a long way when you have nothing.
“Whether it’s a jacket or a hot meal or just an ear, you know,” said Boutte.
Washington said it’s easy to see his situation before you see him. The hardest part of his journey through homelessness has been self-love.
“Accepting who I am, regardless of what people think of me. Just accepting me. Being proud of me. I don’t want money, I want peace, I want happiness and that’s hard,” said Washington.