Former homeless camp residents celebrating new lives

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 19, 2014 at 6:34 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 19 at 6:40 PM

Bill Capo / Eyewitness News
Email: bcapo@wwltv.com | Twitter: @billcapo

NEW ORLEANS -- Just ask Julie Fant about her home and see her smile.

"Ohhh, I love it! I love it!" she cried. "We couldn't have, God couldn't have blessed us with nothing better."

But in 2007, Julie and husband Wayne, both fighting health problems, spent seven months in the tent city that appeared in Duncan Plaza across from the mayor's office.

"A lot of fighting, a lot of drug usage, but nevertheless we hung in there," remembered Wayne.

I met Nathaniel Green in 2008 when a second camp opened under I-10 at Canal and Claiborne.

"People are addicted to drugs, and there is a lot of misuse of each other behind those drugs out here," Green said at the time.

Nathaniel invited me to the home he now rents in Algiers. His retirement program kicked in. His life has changed.

"Overall, I'm a happy man," he said. "I'm not begging anybody for anything, I'm a happy man."

For Wayne and Julie, the normal chores are part of the sheer joy of being in their home.

"We sit in our front room, we look at the television," said Wayne.

"I love my house," added Julie. "A roof over our heads, a bed to lay in. We don't have to worry about laying on the ground."

And they'll never forget the help they received to get out of the camps.

"Unity and Catholic Charities," said Wayne.

"Unity got me my first place over on Pacific Avenue," Green said.

"We were able to permanently house 450 people, more than 450 people, from those two large camps at Duncan Plaza and Canal and Claiborne in eight months," said Unity Executive Director Martha Kegel.

Homeless support group Unity is still using the strategies developed then to find long-term housing.

"It's really looked on nationally as an incredible achievement," said Kegel.

Julie is in school and volunteers at a hospital, while Nathaniel earns a few extra dollars selling pralines.

"I say if I can't find a job, I'm going to make a job, so this is what I'm doing right now -- pralines," said Nathaniel.

"There is a better life," Wayne said. "I think that's the reason for this interview, Mr. Capo, is to show that you can become successful after being homeless."

Of course there still are homeless in New Orleans, like those living under the Pontchartrain Expressway. Julie and Wayne come out there now. They share their story, and hope they can inspire others.

 

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