Driving under the Pontchartrain Expressway to his office in the CBD, attorney Chris Beary spent brief moments at red lights speaking with homeless people. In the winter of 2014, Beary and his wife distributed blankets to the homeless and listened to their stories.
But he wanted to do more. So in June 2014, Beary launched the nonprofit Grace at the Green Light, which provides breakfast and water to homeless people downtown and in Central City.
“We’ve handed out over half a million bottles of water,” said Beary, and, with help from the Living Witness church and Second Harvest Food Bank, close to 90,000 meals.
But he didn’t stop there.
Many of the people Beary encountered were from out of town and would have liked to go home, but didn’t have the means. So Grace at the Green Light has bought bus tickets home for hundreds of people in the past four years.
“They’ve come to New Orleans for a variety of reasons,” Beary explained. “Some come looking for work. Some come because they’re offered a place to stay, or because they’ve got family here and think they can make a life here.”
And many are discharged from hospitals, abuse shelters and substance-abuse clinics that don’t offer transitional programs, he added.
Kade Hebert falls into that camp.
Hebert, a Lafayette native, has been struggling with cancer for more than a year, enduring expensive surgeries and chemotherapy as a result. He also suffers from a mental illness. He came to New Orleans for medical treatment, but with nowhere to live, he ended up in a homeless shelter. Then he heard about Grace at the Green Light and their “I’m Going Home” program.
The first step is determining that the homeless person is returning to a safe and stable environment.
“In order to qualify, you need a family member or friend who is willing to take you into their home, permanently,” Beary said. “There’s a tremendous amount of guilt and embarrassment that goes along with being homeless. And we help (homeless people) overcome that by bandaging the relationships and reuniting them.”
Grace at the Green Light pays for their transportation, meets the clients at the bus station with a ticket and provides them with food for the trip. The organization’s social workers remain in touch with clients to make sure they’re moving in the right direction.
“In three and a half years, we’ve sent home almost 1,450 people,” said Sarah Parks, executive director of Grace at the Green Light.
When Hebert met Parks, he explained his home and health situation. After speaking with Hebert’s father in Lafayette, Parks bought him a bus ticket to Lafayette … and a Subway sandwich.
“It touched my heart,” said Hebert. “After being around people who don’t care, it’s awesome to be around someone who’s compassionate and can empathize with my situation.”
Once Hebert arrives in Lafayette, he’ll stay with his father, “see where things stand,” and look for a place to recover.
Grace at the Green Light administrators hope to increase the number of people they’re able to feed and reunite with a support system.
“We don’t know what the future holds for our organization, but we’re excited to continue doing the work we do and seeing how it grows,” said Parks. “It’s been an amazing success story.”