[Hpn] Policewoman helps homeless find permanent housing not jail

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 15 Nov 2004 07:48:04 -0500

NOPD initiative has colorful new leader

Monday, November 15, 2004
By Tara Young
Staff writer

She has ducked shrapnel in Beirut, danced on hot coals with shamans,
conversed with the Dalai Lama, served as road manager for New Orleans music
legend Dr. John and was once recruited by Mother Teresa to become a nun.
B.B. St. Roman, 57, believes her storied history has led her to this moment
in time: to be the executive director of the New Orleans Police Department's
Homeless Assistance Collaborative, a group created to identify and help
chronically homeless people move off the streets to permanent residences.

"I consider Dr. John and Mother Teresa my mother and father figures," said
St. Roman, whose own parents were shot to death at their Kentucky home more
than two decades ago. "They both taught me about having compassion for the
poorest of the poor."
St. Roman said she was able to survive the tragedy of her parents' deaths
and losing a niece in an unsolved 1979 home invasion by reflecting on the
teachings of holy men she met in the Himalayas.
"Everything happens for a reason," said St. Roman, who is convinced her
life's work is to help others find true happiness. "I want to make people's
dreams come true."
A brief sketch of some of St. Roman's adventures are featured in "Helping
Hand," a comic book that combines helpful information for homeless people
and personal expressions from the community it serves.
The comic book should help introduce the homeless to those they will
encounter as they try to find permanent shelter, while putting them at ease
with the new initiative, St. Roman said.
Many are unaccustomed to police offering them a helping hand to anything
other than a jail cell, St. Roman said.
'Good communication tool'
Under the new collaborative, however, officers have been encouraged to
identify those people who are not committing crimes but lack a place to
stay. A police van will take them there. The comic strip is another way to
get the word out, she said.
"It's a good communication tool," St. Roman said. "Next month, for December,
I want to have a large article about where they can go to get warm
This month readers were introduced to St. Roman; NOPD Capt. Louis Dabdoub
III, the architect behind the collaborative; William "Rusty" Wirth, the case
worker in charge of helping the homeless make the transition from the
streets; and Sylvia Williams, the cartoonist behind the comic strip in the
In the first issue, published this month, Dabdoub wrote that he hoped the
collaborative would help reduce the number of homeless people being
"On an average, homeless persons spend 42 days in jail, and when they come
out, they are still homeless and have likely lost what little they had,"
Dabdoub wrote. "Soon when police officers are called to a scene involving a
homeless person, they can call the van to take over the situation when no
major crime issue is involved."
In October, 45 volunteers -- social workers, medical students and community
activists -- recently completed training for the program. Teams will soon
hit the streets each night from 3 to 11 p.m. to assist the homeless. A
passenger van will be used to transport the homeless to shelters.
Advice and artistry
Besides providing information about where to go for a hot meal, legal help
and shelter, St. Roman said she also wants the comic book to provide a venue
for the homeless to express themselves.
A personal essay by Marlene Rae Morris and a poem written by Mark Kofi
Amanfo were showcased in the first edition.
Morris, a self-described functional alcoholic, wrote about her losing battle
to change her life this year in New Orleans. She worked as a Lucky Dog
vendor for three weeks but was fired because her supervisor told her she was
hanging out in the French Quarter "drinking, laughing, meeting people . . ."
"So I went back and resorted to what I do best," Morris wrote. "Today I am
setting a record for the amount of time I have not been residing at one of
O.P.P.'s fine facilities . . . 20 days!"
Amanfo, who is originally from Ghana, wrote a poem personifying Friday.
St. Roman said she approached many homeless people with paper and pens to
write pieces for the first issue but Morris and Amanfo were the only ones
who participated.
"They were really excited to see their names in print," St. Roman said.
Williams, who draws caricatures for a living, said she hopes the publication
gives the homeless a voice they haven't had before in the city.
"I'm pleased that I was able to do it for a worthwhile cause," Williams
said. "That's what it's all about."
St. Roman, who used her own money to publish the first issue, said she
believes traveling to 40 countries as a documentary sound recordist and
meeting some of the world's most interesting people ultimately led her back
to New Orleans to help the city's neediest.
New Orleans, she said, is "a lot more soulful than the rest of the United
. . . . . . .
Tara Young can be reached at tyoung@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3301.

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