Simone Hennessee has a lot to be thankful for.
As the Executive Director of the Providence House, she has witnessed many life changing moments over the last two decades. The Providence House is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month and its continued mission to break the cycle of homelessness.
“In my 22 years, we have served more than 15,000 people, over 4,300 families and close to 10,000 children,” Hennessee said. “We’re here to celebrate and give thanks that we’ve been able to be here because of a very generous community that gives their time, talent and resources to help us continue our mission in this community.”
Hennessee’s journey with Providence House began in 1992 with 25 families, three employees, no program and $115,000. Today, Providence House is the largest residential development center for homeless families in the state of Louisiana with the only child development center in the state for homeless children.
There are 75 families currently utilizing the services offered at Providence House. That amounts to 228 people total, including 146 children.
Hennessee said most families enter the program in survival mode – a place to stay, somewhere to get a meal and somewhere to stay warm in the winter. Essentially, Providence House has become the place for families to catch their breath and to regain their resources over time.
“What we do here is not magic,” Hennessee said. “We have just taken the key tenants of that it takes to raise a family or raise young people successfully and put it in a form that we can measure to see how well they are doing.”
The ultimate goal in the next 25 years and beyond, Hennessee said, is to rid the community of homeless families all together by providing the tools and knowledge they need to be successful and independent. Fortunately, Providence House has developed a program already that addresses a long-term solution to ending the cycle of homelessness.
Providence House provides short-term transitional housing in combination with an individualized support program, which includes education programs, child care, parenting, money management, and life skills development.
“Our whole mission is to look at those long-term solutions linked to the issue of homelessness,” Hennessee said. “Our program addresses that and we’re one of the only programs that actually combine steps so families have the potential to reach their highest level of independence possible without reentering the cycle of homelessness.”
The key is education. Hennessee said education has become the center piece of their program.
“Not everyone has the capacity to get their GED or go to school, but for those who do, that is their path out,” she said. “Once you can educate someone in a job demand area that pays a living wage, the other problems associated with homelessness start to disappear or diminish dramatically. [Education] is a permanent path out.”
By completing the program, families are finding what they need to do in their own lives to make that long-term change. The first family to graduate in 1993 was just the beginning of a positive turnaround in the local homeless community.
“The program works for what we intended it to do. That’s the good news,” Hennessee said. “The challenging news is not much has changed.”
Hennessee said a trinity of issues still remain – childcare, transportation and affordable rental houses. However, Providence House is hopeful that their push for education will continue to be the long-term solution.
“There are jobs available in our community and some are good paying jobs,” Hennessee said. “But first you have to have that skill set and education to do those things. Then you need the transportation, the childcare, and so on. It’s very much a domino effect from one thing to another.”
Hennessee said the future is bright for Providence House. She credits the community’s support as another key factor to ending homelessness.
“What keeps us going is knowing that people care about what we’re doing. We are fortunate to live in one of the most generous communities that I have ever lived in,” Hennessee said, noting that a majority of Providence House funding comes from private donors, not government funds. “When everyone does a little, a lot gets done. Our community is part of the solution. The community has enabled us to do this work, and for that, I will be forever grateful.”