Rebuilding Lives – One at a Time

December 18, 2007

In the Spring of 2006, Heriberto Martinez (Church World Service staff) phoned to talk with me about the numbers of day laborers that had come to New Orleans looking for work cleaning up the muck left by Hurricane Katrina and the floods.  The people who were arriving had no place to live, no place to wash their clothes, no medical care, and no recourse when they were not paid for the work they did.  Heriberto asked that I speak with Martin Gutierrez of the New Orleans Hispanic Apostolate about needs for day laborers.  Martin introduced me to Don Thompson of the Catholic Diocese…just like the new growth of Spring, a new local partnership began to grow in New Orleans.  Building and permit delays plagued the completion of this center, however, the diocese persevered and the dedication of the new space was finally held on August 26, 2007; and the opening to people in need was August 27, 2007.

 “The purpose of The Rebuild Center is to provide a setting, resources and opportunities for collaboration among Catholic and other faith-based organizations in the city of New Orleans.  The Center will work with the needy and displaced to build and rebuild their lives.  The Center will be a center of hope for the revitalization of this community.” – reprinted from The Rebuild Center Mission Statement.


The United Church of Christ supported the building of what was to be named The Rebuild Center. In December 2006, $50,000 was sent from the One Great Hour of Sharing special fund, Hope Shall Bloom for the physical building of a day center; in December 2007, another $50,000 was sent to support ongoing program for the year 2008.  Following is more of a story than a report as each number represents a human being in need of a new beginning.  With gratitude to all who supported the Hope Shall Bloom special appeal, I share these words from the Rebuild Center Director.

I.          Introduction to the St. Joseph Rebuild Center



    I don't have any family or friends here; I'm away from home so I truly appreciate the support and encouragement of the staff.  If it wasn't for them, I don't know where I would be.  They have undying patience for us, even though I know that has to be hard, and they always make time for us as individuals.  When I am out on the street I am always hassled, but in here I find peace of mind.  You never know how much difference it makes to have the opportunity to look decent, take a shower, receive a clean change of clothes so when you are walking around outside you can walk with dignity and hope because you are clean.  I am so thankful.                                   Michael, Age 47

 In September 2007 - after a year and a half of prayers, work, sweat, begging, and more prayers and more work - the St. Joseph Rebuild Center in New Orleans opened its gates to welcome well over one hundred very special guests. The resources and services provided within the 15,000 square foot Rebuild Center are solely focused on the working poor, and men and women who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness.


With over 150 years of experience ministering with the most vulnerable in the city, the four primary collaborators of the Rebuild Center – St. Joseph Church, the Harry Tompson Center, Lantern Light Ministries, and Catholic Charities’ Hispanic Outreach Program – have been very busy providing for both the daily succor of their guests, as well as building the healthy, supportive relationships that will empower many of their guests to successfully address the challenges in their lives.


Each of the organizations collaborating within the Rebuild Center are acutely aware that the welcoming, peaceful, and functional structure of the Rebuild could not have been realized without significant and generous support from a multitude of  faith communities – including the United Church of Christ.  The United Church of Christ not only awarded a significant amount of funds for the Rebuild Center facility, but also served as a catalyst and example for other congregations to follow – resulting in the ability to open the Rebuild Center without construction debt.


The Need for the Services of the Rebuild Center


The following findings are indicators of the grave need for the services provided within the Rebuild Center:

v     According to UNITY for the Homeless of Greater New Orleans, as reported in the Christian Science Monitor on March 28th of this year, there are currently approximately 12,000 people in New Orleans in need of shelter on any given night – not including the individuals and families still in FEMA trailers or living with family members.

v     As recently as November 5, 2007, New OrleansTimes-Picayune reported that another 550 families living in FEMA trailers are being evicted and left to face the acute shortage of affordable housing.

v     A recent study published by Louisiana State University reports that 3 out of 4 of the families in FEMA trailer sites were renters prior to Katrina, and have an annual household income of less than $ 15,000. 

v     Policy Link – a national advocacy agency – noted that prior to Katrina 58% of rentals were less than $ 500 a month – and 57% of those units were destroyed by the flood waters. 

v     The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that now fair-market rent for efficiency is $ 764 and for a one-bedroom it is $ 846 per month – far out of reach of families living on less than $ 15,000 a year.


The Services Provided within the Rebuild Center 


The people here helped me get a copy of my birth certificate.  That may seem like a little thing, but it is what I needed to get an ID, so that I can start working at temp agencies and hopefully get a job.  I feel comfortable here, where I don’t on the street. I feel safe here – everything will be alright when I come here.   I love [the staff] and I thank you who help me with clothes, laundry and the things I need to keep clean.

-          Margery, Age 48


While it is difficult to quantify the value of dignity and the building of trusting relationships, the following numbers reflect the activities of the first 5,429 women and men to use the Rebuild Center’s facilities in the opening eight weeks of operation:


v     2,393 guests were able to take hot showers;

v     1,447 guests received toiletry kits;

v     958 guests were able to do loads of laundry;

v     The guests’ phone room was continually busy – over 7,000 calls for over 32,000 minutes of communication;

v     Over 4,895 meals were served

v     116  people were helped to obtain identification and copies of their birth certificates;

v     233 families from the neighborhood received grocery/pantry assistance;

v     55 Latino workers were counseled on issues related to employment, documentation, immigration issues and health care;

v     The restrooms were used consistently for over six hours each day;

v     134 guests were able to seek counsel from attorneys and notaries;

v     324 guests were able to visit with the Physician Assistant and Mobile Medical Team; and

v     85 guests were able to receive mental health case management services.

It is an honor to have so many dedicated foundations, religious organizations, volunteer groups and individual contributors as important partners in this vital venture. Please feel free to track the ongoing accomplishments of the Center and our guests on the following site: .  Again, thank you for your dedicated, generous and ongoing interest in The Rebuild Center.



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