St. Charles Herald-Guide

Ministry seeks to house homeless vets in Hahnville

Kyle Barnett - March 23, 2013

James Johnson did not know what to do after his apartment was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

The Vietnam veteran, who served in the Air Force from 1975 until 1982, had lost everything for a second time.

"When I first got out of the military, I bought a little house," he said. "It had electrical problems and burnt down."

After serving in the military, Johnson worked in the construction and carpentry trade, but as the years went on a nagging war injury finally prevented him from doing manual labor.

"I was shot in the leg by a sniper," Johnson said. "My cousin, we were buddies, he was right next to me and got shot in the head and his brains splattered all over me. It was hard. Thatís not something I usually talk about. For a long time I couldnít talk about it at all."

With no job and no government assistance, Johnson had nowhere to turn.

"My unemployment benefits ran out and I couldnít get disability," he said. "I was broke."

At 62 years old in the latter part of 2005, Johnson found himself homeless for the first time in his life.

"It was interesting. You learn a lot about yourself and other people when you are out there," he said. "You learn about how much people can take."

After more than a year of living on the street, Johnson met Lisa Carey, program director for Housing Outreach Ministries. She was about to change his life.

Housing Outreach Ministries runs shelters in Hahnville and Marrero for veterans, the elderly and the mentally ill.

Carey was able to help Johnson transition into the ministryís Hahnville apartments.

For five years, Johnson lived in the Hahnville unit. During that time he said Carey helped him get access to healthcare at the Veteranís Administration Hospital and receive a government stipend, which he was able to use to give back to the ministry for the housing they provided.

Johnson said the help he received through the ministry was invaluable.

"People take a lot of average, everyday things for granted," he said. "Like where am I going to go the bathroom or take a shower? What will I have for breakfast in the morning, if I have anything at all? Itís easy to forget about those things until you are in a position where they are not guaranteed."

Now, at 70 years old, Johnson is again independent and living on his own.

"If (Carey) shows up at the gates of heaven there is no doubt they are letting her in," Johnson said.

Carey said although Housing Outreach Ministries offers services to all homeless people, they have been focusing on veterans in particular lately.

"We went out and polled a lot of the homeless shelters and found a lot of veterans were living under the bridge in New Orleans," she said. "We found that it was not necessary for people that served the country to be living under a bridge."

Although they have reached out to a number of veterans, not many have taken them up on the offer of a place to stay.

"Thus far maybe six to 10 have actually come through our particular housing. But we have contacted over 100," she said.

Part of Careyís goal is to house veterans together because of their shared experiences.

"We just want to make the veterans viable so they can have permanent housing and participate in the local community and the local economic environment of the community," she said. "We want them to become tax paying citizens again."

Currently, Housing Outreach Ministries has six veterans living in their Marrero location. Right now they are reaching out to those who may be in need to place in their Hahnville location.

In addition to providing free and subsidized rent, Housing Outreach Ministries locations are furnished and offer free utilities. The ministry also helps connect residents with social services and provides help with job searches as well as placement in permanent housing.

Housing Outreach Ministries is asking for help from the community for donations of beds, sheets, blankets, wireless computers, food and money.

Carey said the organization is currently in need of transportation for its residents as well.

"If somebody wants to donate a van, we will accept any donations like that," Carey said. "We need something where we can provide transportation to hospitals."

For more information or to help Housing Outreach Ministries, call Lisa Carey at (504) 340-3429 or email at

Ministry seeks to house homeless vets in Hahnville