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BB ST. ROMAN: Yeah, well, I got the experience of the mountains as a child because our family would go to the Adirondack Mountains in New York state. And my father and grandfather built a cabin across the lake, so would go stay in the cabin. No electricity, no running water, and all that for a few weeks as a family. But then of course, when I hit the Himalayas and I’ve been there like eight times to Nepal. So I’ve been up in the mountains a lot over there. I realized that the mountain is strong, it’s quiet and it’s solid. Like nothing can shake it. And it just radiates an energy that you feel. And that’s something that these Shamans say.
They don’t have to go to Sagarmatha, which is, Mount Everest. They bring the mountain to them. You bring the mountain into you. Actually, Mother Teresa, she would act like a mountain wherever she went. We would go to a country where they wanted to take the land away from the sisters that she had there. And so she’d go talk to the government and she would just steadfastly stand there and say, very quietly and calmly, oh, but this is what we really should have. She’d get everything she wanted. Just by being like a mountain.
Standing up for her principles and what she believed and what she knew was the right thing to do. She didn’t let anything affect her. When you come around the corner of a path up there and all of a sudden you see all these mountains, like big mountains, white mountains, you’re just in awe. So to me, being like a mountain is a symbol of strength and of being quiet and strong and yet radiating at the same time. And I used that symbol very often. Especially when I came back from the Himalayas and I found that my parents had been murdered and I had to deal with that.
I had the strength of the mountains in me, and I’ve always kept that symbol to be like a mountain. Stand there and don’t let anything really affect you on the inside. When I came down here, I’d had some mountain land up in Virginia. I’d gotten with the inheritance from my parents. I got 40 acres of wonderful mountains in the Shenandoah Mountains. Came down here and I went looking for mountains around Louisiana and there’re not, there ain’t no mountains here.
MAN ON STREET: She is a saint. If you don’t believe me, take her down to the river, get this, and, she’ll walk across the water. I’ve been, on the street back and forth for like a year here, a year and a half, two years. Fuck, I don’t know. Pardon my language.
PRODUCER: You’re fine.
MAN ON STREET: But Miss BB, She helps everybody out. That’s all I gotta say.
BB ST. ROMAN: New Orleans Police Department Homeless Assistance Unit is BB St. Roman. I can help you with something. What you got? I’m BB St. Roman. I’ve been out in the world for some 68 years now. Enjoying being here, doing different things in life. From documentary films and now working with the homeless. Just finding different ways to be involved in life. I just love being out there, being involved. How you doing today?
MAN ON STREET: Hey BB.
BB ST. ROMAN: You love me? Oh, that’s.
MAN ON STREET: Hey BB.
BB ST. ROMAN: Hey. How you doing? You doing alright?
MAN ON STREET: Running from the cops?
BB ST. ROMAN: Running for the cops.
MAN ON STREET: I never made the court that day.
BB ST. ROMAN: Oh man. Was it homeless court?
MAN ON STREET: Yeah.
BB ST. ROMAN: Just show up– the one in January. So January 21st.
MAN ON STREET: You show up on it?
BB ST. ROMAN: Yeah, just show up. We’ll deal with it then.
MAN ON STREET: Okay. Okay. I’ll be there.
BB ST. ROMAN: It’s January 21st. We are here in New Orleans, Louisiana. Where i’ve been living for the last 24 years. I love it here. I’ve been to like 40 foreign countries around the world and lived in New York for 20 years, but New Orleans is, this is it. After all my travels, this is home and ain’t going nowhere else. I love the energy here. It’s just the right thing for me. And I’ve been, working in a lot of different worlds here. Like the biker world. The homeless world. Different spiritual worlds in my life.
And they all come together here somehow. New Orleans is a very magical place. So it’s a real combination of everywhere I’ve been. So I’m really happy here. My original name is Barbara Becker, so that’s BB. People just started calling me BB in in the film world, and so that just came onto me at some point in my adult life. But then when I married Pops, his last name was actually Stroman. So when I got married, I thought, well, I’ll change my name, but I didn’t wanna change it to Stroman. So I thought I’ll just change it to St. Roman. I added a little dot in there. A little imagination gone wild.
WOMAN ON STREET: Hey, how’s it going?
BB ST. ROMAN: How you doing? Alright. Happy holidays.
WOMAN ON STREET: Same to you. Will miss you.
BB ST. ROMAN: I can’t hardly go a block or two driving around out here without running into people. I know.
MAN ON STREET: I’m gonna try to bring you something for New Year’s.
BB ST. ROMAN: Yeah.
MAN ON STREET: Bring you a New Year’s present.
BB ST. ROMAN: Awww.
MAN ON STREET: That how much I miss you.
BB ST. ROMAN: Hey, a hug that’s good enough for me. Well, for the police department, I am the homeless assistant unit. So I’ve been out there on my own. I’ve had volunteers now and then. And especially homeless people like to, or formerly homeless, will like to come volunteer like on freeze nights or something. My shift is when most services are open places that you can take people to get checked in. When clinics are open. When offices are open to get IDs, social security, food stamps, things like that.
There’s all kinds of different things I do. On freeze nights I’m out making sure everybody gets in cuz it’s gonna be too cold. It’s expanded to giving people the information of what services are available. And then also when it’s appropriate, putting ’em in my van and transporting ’em. Some people I have to drive around for days or weeks to connect them to each thing. Take ’em to social security. Take ’em to the doctor. Take them to whatever, get their id, get the whatever things they need. Really take their hand. Other people don’t need much help. So there’s a whole spectrum. If you get into homeless people, there’s a huge spectrum of small needs to great needs out there in the streets.
It was the wisdom really of a police captain who had been in a different district in New Orleans and he got transferred to the French Quarter District, the eighth district. And suddenly he saw the homeless people and he says, I don’t like this. All our officers can do is like send somebody down the street or take ’em to jail. There was no alternative to actually help these people that were laying out on the street begging drunk, blocking the sidewalk. So he created this homeless unit.
That was his idea. And he knew me from– I was volunteering with the police, with the neighborhood watch and things. So he knew of me and he said, BB, you’re the person I want to run this. I didn’t– never had interaction with homeless people before. But I did have a background– if I look back of things I’d done years ago were leading up to this. So I felt it was a calling. I felt I had to take it on. I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but I only spent a year there. Basically grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. That’s what I would relate to is home.
That’s why I went to high school and all that. Parents in general– yeah, they were like really good inspirations cuz my father was the problem solver. He was an inventor and he always told me, you find a solution to every problem. And my mother from my mother too. Cause I learned how to sew clothes and take care of vegetables in the garden and all that. So my whole youth was learning skills that would help me in my life. So I was very lucky that way to have parents who instilled a lot of mental use.
Figure things out, do a good job , and teaching me skills. That’s really important for kids to have. And then I did some four years of college in Washington University in St. Louis. 1969 we came to New York City. And I always had this technical background, so I learned really quickly about cameras and lights and sound and how to fix everything. And I made my own battery belts. It was still all 16 millimeter and 35 millimeter for big films. I can’t remember the first one, but maybe the most important early one was it was called Shamans of the Blind Country.
AUDIO CLIP: From that day on, the witches would bring illness, illness to man. And he, the shaman, would then cure the sick for money or drain.
BB ST. ROMAN: And it was a three part series that we did up in the Himalayas. Had to fly to Kathmandu. We could take a bus for a day or two, and then we walked for seven or eight days to get the to a remote mountain village. And then we stayed for three months.
AUDIO CLIP: Nearby a little boy, involuntary shaking is taken as an early sign of a potential call to the shaman’s profession.
BB ST. ROMAN: That first trip we get to Kathmandu, then we take a bus, like I said, for a day. And then we’re walking and we’re walking and we walk to this remote village and it’s like, there’s no– of course, no electricity, no running water, no tables, no chairs, no silverware, no outhouses. I mean, there is nothing. A blanket was everything. A blanket? You put it on to wear it. You fold it up to sit on it, you sleep in it at night. Fire. Fire was light, heat, everything. It was down to the basics. I had never been that basic in my life. These people lived that way, for hundreds, thousands, whatever of years. And that was just their way of life.
And it’s like you always keep the fire going somewhere because that was everything. Your cook stove, like I said, your light, your heat– not even you eat with your hands. In that village they practiced shamanism. So there are all the shamans who lived there who would heal the sick there, and they had their own rituals. So we were studying their rituals. Becoming a shaman, healing the sick. Then they’re sacrificing animals and talking to the spirit world. Drum ritual trips beating their drum and they’re retrieving the spirit and bringing it back and the person lives. They don’t retrieve the spirit, the person dies. I mean, this was all happening and we are filming it all too.
Those seven days walking back, I felt, I was walking out of the heart of the world. And each day back was closer to civilization. And then when you finally get to where there’s a road and there’s cars, it’s just like too fast. And it was a real culture shock to come back that first time. I was like in a daze for a while. And a few months later we went back and I was all ready to go back. I learned that you can be happy with anything or nothing. In this case, you don’t need any material goods to make you happy. It’s all kind of a state of mind that you can be in. So I was just coming back from one of those three trips to stay with the shamans.
When I got back to New York City, I was told that my parents had just been murdered. They were in their home and somebody came up to their home and just murdered them. Nothing was stolen from the house, so we don’t know what it was about. It was never solved. You wonder why things happen, but you have to see the blessing in disguise if it will. That day my mother was supposed to find out from the doctor that she had cancer. And she had it so bad she would’ve only lived another month or two. Not that that’s any good rationale to that, but that would’ve been a very miserable time for her.
But I realized that the strength of the shamans is what carried me through. The strength of being in that part of the world and being able to deal with anything on any level had really set me up to be able to handle that. I think sometimes it’s just better left unsolved. I had some dreams about it and my dreams confirmed of who it probably was. But that was good enough for me. Let’s just– it was better to leave it and just go on. What’s going on?
MAN ON STREET: I got a summons for flying my sign one day. Who do I have to see about to get it put in homeless court?
BB ST. ROMAN: Well, I guess go ahead and go to your court date if it’s before January 21st.
MAN ON STREET: Okay.
BB ST. ROMAN: And asked to be switched to homeless court.
MAN ON STREET: What happens if we miss one?
BB ST. ROMAN: You get a warrant for your arrest.
MAN ON STREET: Oh, okay. Well, that’s good to know. Right. Even if it’s a misdemeanor, really?
BB ST. ROMAN: Yeah, because you’re disrespecting the court.
MAN ON STREET: Oh, by not showing up.
BB ST. ROMAN: Yeah.
MAN ON STREET: Okay. Okay.
BB ST. ROMAN: Just show up. That’s so important. It started out with just being able to assist the police, that was the main thing. So if the police needed some help with somebody, like I said, rather than just send ’em down the street or take ’em to jail, they could call me up and then I would come and talk to them and discuss services with ’em. But I’ve expanded it way, way beyond that. Because my job is mostly information and transportation. Not all bad. When police issue tickets, and I’ll tell the police that too.
And then in homeless court they basically drop the fines, drop the jail time, drop whatever. In exchange for the person to work on getting their lives. You can’t expect homeless people to just come to you. They’re gonna be in their little spot. And unless you go to them and connect to them– you have to gain the trust. And after a while, I mean, my reputation’s spread all over. So everybody knows BB and talk to BB. BB can do this. BB can do that. It’s like, I can’t necessarily do all the things they say I can do, but I try. S
o the first days I was walking around the streets actually, and I didn’t even have a bicycle at that time. First of all, I was scared stiff to go on the police radio. All these things I’d done in my life. Life all over the world and it was like I was gonna go on the police radio and make my first announcement and I just sat there petrified for a few minutes. Because I knew it’d be broadcast. It was a freeze night that night. So actually I went from like zero to a hundred, like real quick. What we call freeze nights here every– all the shelters open up special.
So I was out like late to one, two in the morning. That first night, getting people off the streets into the shelters. Making sure they knew it was gonna get that cold. And if they didn’t have enough blankets, I wanted ’em to get in. All of a sudden I was like calling in the radio over and over to transport one person to the shelter. And then a couple more from somewhere else. So by the end of the evening I had it down by then. I’ve never felt in danger, ever, I must say, out here. Especially with a uniform on.
MAN ON STREET: A long time about BB. She been out for a while. If we need something, we out here freezing BB to the rescue. She our hero. For all the homies. I was under the bridge in the tent. I got caught up. I had to go to homeless court. Yeah she speak for us.
BB ST. ROMAN: It’s like somebody from the police is gonna try to help me, you know, not take me to jail. Another film I worked on was with some Tibetan Buddhist Lamas. They have a lot of good lessons.
SAMPLE: For Buddhists, there are many paths to enlightenment. The Buddhism of the Himalayas is called the diamond path cause of its purity and intensity. The diamond path cannot be followed without a guide.
BB ST. ROMAN: See, they don’t believe in like killing anything. They’re very peaceful. There’s never any fighting in families or anything. There’s so much respect. It was like, I thought these are like the ideal teachings for families. Totally different type of culture. They make the big sand mandala. It takes some weeks. And then they just gather up the sand and destroy it. Destroy illusion. And when the full moon comes just pour down into the stream to go out to the world to send the energy out.
That was 1982-83. It was a professor doing a study on how people think that they can’t control like their breathing and certain automatic functions. Well, he was out to prove that you can control them. And so he found out with the Tibetan Buddhist monks, when they go into trance, they could lower their brainwaves down to Delta, which is like brain dead. And then snap right back out of it. So he had to go to Sikkim, to this monastery. So I got to be the sound person on that one. And that’s when we met the Dalai Lama too.
SAMPLE: Without making special effort, transformation will not take place. So we need, you see, effort.
BB ST. ROMAN: He came in the room and he came over to me, and at that time, I had still like little braids in the front. But I had little braids with little ribbons in them. And he came up to me and he pulled on those little braids and he said, is this the style in the United States now? After the film work, I got to meet the Dalai Lama. Then I got to work with Mother Teresa. And this was off and on for two years. So that was quite an event. She was traveling then a lot. She had 80 different missionary of charity houses. If you will, around the world.
SAMPLE: Poverty is not created by God. It’s made by you and me.
BB ST. ROMAN: We went to Beirut, to Lebanon. That was during the fighting. And a whole hospital with orphans in it had been bombed out over in West Beirut.
SAMPLE: Mother Teresa, that she wanted to get to West Beirut to see to the needs of the people there.
BB ST. ROMAN: They’re bombing the hotels where we’re staying. There’s no glass in any windows in the hotels. All the Venetian blinds were all twisted and gunshot– bullets in the walls. It was like there was active fighting going on all time. See she is like a mountain. She would just stand her ground and do what she needed to do to get things done. And she decided she needed a ceasefire so she could go in to the other side and get to this hospital and get all these abandoned kids out. The hospital was gone, blown up.
There was still kids in the other half. There was no water, no nothing. And she wanted to get these kids out and get ’em to safety. That was her mission. And the next morning it was quiet and we went over and got the kids out. She would see all the tools on my belt and my sound belt that I’d have for different things. All the screwdrivers and that. And she pulled out her cross and she said, my, my how many tools you have, I only have one tool. And she’d pull out the her cross. This is all I need. And this is Jesus on the cross. She was a woman of action and she called it love in action. You don’t just sit there and talk about things, you go out and do ’em.
ARTHUR WILSON: Anybody tell you, she’s Angel. No matter where you go or what you see. Couldn’t nobody else do the job but her? Nobody. She talking about help. Then she just get in her way. Oh, my name is Arthur Wilson. Home is out here. Been out here for a while. Graduated high school in Chicago. I lived in California. I done traveled somewhere, everywhere. But I can’t stay away from here.
PRODUCER: You don’t have New Orleans?
ARTHUR WILSON: My home, it’s nothing like it. Anywhere else I’ve been, there’s nothing like New Orleans. It did change a whole lot, but it’s still New Orleans.
BB ST. ROMAN: It is a party town, a parade town. There are a lot of visitors here. You can panhandle them, everybody. You can drink on the streets, as long as it’s not in a glass bottle. The police are fairly lax with a lot of that because there’s so many visitors here who are out getting drunk and having a good time.
BB ST. ROMAN: Yeah. What’s that?
MAN ON STREET: I’m gonna pick a TV set up. Can you take me into Walmart and get it?
BB ST. ROMAN: Oh, sure. Huh?
MAN ON STREET: I’m gonna at the Sacred Heart Apartments now.
BB ST. ROMAN: Oh yeah. Great.
MAN ON STREET: Got inside.
BB ST. ROMAN: You just go person to person. You talk to one person, you try to help ’em. You try to solve their problems, see what they need to connect back in. See where they’re at. And just work with them. Yeah, of course.
MAN ON STREET: Okay. I’ll give you a call. Okay.
BB ST. ROMAN: Yeah, I’d be glad to.
MAN ON STREET: It’s probably in a couple weeks.
BB ST. ROMAN: Okay.
MAN ON STREET: Alright.
BB ST. ROMAN: Good.
WOMAN ON STREET: Miss BB.
BB ST. ROMAN: Hey, how you doing?
WOMAN ON STREET: You know this lady, she means a lot to many of people. And I don’t know how she do it. She very potent and important. Y’all don’t know what this woman. I wish she puts in everything for everybody. You know what? I don’t think the homeless would survive without her.
BB ST. ROMAN: First guy we finally landed into housing. That was a really, that was a huge event. He lived in Jackson Square for 10 years. And he did– he ended up giving up. He became an alcoholic out on the streets. He’s very resistant to help. One day he fell down and he couldn’t get up. So I’d just been on the job a few months. Really? He says, okay, BB. You said You can help me. What can you do? I said, come on. I had to drag him into my van. He smelled horrible. He’d been in the same pants for weeks. Got him a shower somewhere. Got him some fresh clothes. I took him to help him get his ID. We went to Social Security. He was 62 years old.
He had qualified cuz he had worked. So I started getting him set up on his benefits. We looked around for senior housing. He gets into his own apartment and he like stops drinking. Just to have his own bed, his own room, his own shower and all that. So he became my first volunteer and we got him a uniform and everything. He had passed away about two years ago. He went from lying on the streets in the gutter for real. To being back, totally functioning wonderful, beautiful human being. After the Mother Teresa film, right around that time, early eighties, that’s when video was coming in and they didn’t need sound recordists anymore. And I had been going to Dr. John concerts. I just loved his music.
AUDIO CLIP: They call me Dr. John.
BB ST. ROMAN: Dr. John. Well, he’s the singer with a real gravely voice. So he is not a good singer, but he sings. And it’s, like blues and. Kind of an R&B rhythm and blues type of music, but it’s a very traditional New Orleans kind of rhythms. And some of the lyrics spoke to me. After his concerts, I was like wide awake, full of energy. It’d be two in the morning and I just wanna walk around town cuz I didn’t wanna go home. So one night I was pulling out in my old international travel, all that I had. He was standing at the corner with his guitar after the gig. Waiting to flag down a taxi, I said, oh, you need a lift.
So I gave him a ride to his house and he said, could I get your number? I need to go to this studio in New Jersey, and I don’t got no way to get there. You know? I said, well, sure, I’ll give you a ride. You know, man. I started driving him around and helping him. Then it turned out he didn’t even have a road manager, no nothing to help him. Then I was the road manager and the manager for about 10 years, cuz he just never had all that.
We’d go to Greece, we’d go to Japan. All over Europe, of course, the summer festivals in Europe and then all around the United States. So we just started building it up. So we had one band and then we could get better gigs and then we could travel with a whole band. That was his dream, and I made his dream come true in the 10 years I was with him.
I’ve always considered Dr. John, my spiritual father and Mother Teresa, my spiritual mother. He always felt that what he considered the regular people out there were the most important people. You always take care of them. Also, a way of getting things done without bossing people, without telling you, do this that way. You give somebody responsibility and you just expect them to go ahead with it. Give them that chance to grow into it and grow on their own. He was living in New York City and I was too, right.
But we would come down here and I just fell in love with New Orleans and it was just so nice. We were staying at a hotel in the quarter in the bricks, courtyards, and the banana trees. You don’t have that New York City. The only thing green out my window and the fifth floor walk up was a fire escape across the way. It was the only thing green. So it was like, the greenery, the interaction here, the friendliness. It’s like everyone is like here together. It’s this whole other feeling. I started looking at houses that weekend and I saw for sale sign, I said, Ooh, this looks like a neat house. And I wrote down the number.
When I got back to New York, I called up Creole Cottage Born 1810. It’s got the dependency in the back. That’s sometimes called the garcinia, but it’s a whole complete house. By 1994. I’ve been on the road with Dr. John for 10 years and we’ve been going to the same places over and over. There’d be like four months where I wouldn’t even have a weekend off. It was just a lot of work. And it’s pretty clear whether somebody’s got enough blankets already in sleeping bags, that they’ll be warm enough. Then we don’t have to worry about ’em.
And they’ll make it. Three froze to death last year. But so far there haven’t been too many nights this year and not that cold. Some who are just trying to lie there with nothing or some little skinny sheet and think they’re gonna make it. And that’s when we’ll really get on ’em and convince ’em. You gotta go in, man. You know? You just have to to save your life.
One main thing that all homeless people say, is that they feel they’re invisible. That if they’re kind of laying out there, all scrubby looking people passing by actually turn the other way and not even wanna look at ’em. Invisible is how they feel, and so when somebody actually looks at them, smiles and says hello, that means the world to them. That’s much more important than giving somebody a dollar. Give a little time, give a little care. That’s what a lot of these people just need. They need some kind of motivation. To get connected again cuz they didn’t plan to get unconnected. Something happened in their lives that was rather dramatic that got ’em out there. Cause they didn’t plan to be homeless.
MAN ON STREET: I don’t know how she did it because she got the cops to help her. She would come around and pick you up to keep you from getting arrested. She’s not the type of person that’s going to like turn you in unless you do something really evil. I’ll try to stay away from evil.
BB ST. ROMAN: I got married, I was 47 years old. So I’d been having a rather flamboyant life before that with all kinds of people. But I was never gonna settle down. I was on the road all the time, but then after I got my house here, and then when I met Pops– he was one that somebody recommended to come over and do some handiwork on my house. He was like six foot two, slender, tattoos on his arm, white beard, white hair, wearing his leather jacket. Took one look at him and I said, I know this man’s gonna be important in my life.
I just knew it. I had to make a decision. Do I want to keep going on the road and doing this over and over, or do I wanna spend some time with this man? Because he was quite a leader among the bikers here. He had a biker bar for many years, Choppa Tolouse Tavern. That was before I knew him. He was all about bikes and that. So I started riding with him. And he was what they called a Santa Claus and black leather.
So he started like the toy run here in Louisiana, which ended up going to Magnolia School. Which is a school for people with mental handicaps. And the bikers started that. That still goes on today. We got married at the House of Blues, March 27th, 1994 on a full moon. Had to be on a full moon. 1,608 people came to the wedding at the House of Blues. We had a couple hundred motorcycles. We had to block off some streets. It was on all the news things. It was like, I guess nothing else was going on. We went on a big motorcycle trip together up in North Carolina, Kentucky, everywhere. Things he’d really wanted to do that he had never been able to do before.
Everything was going along fine. We’re having so much fun together. It was just creative in the community and we’re doing a lot of good. And then suddenly shows up with cancer and within a month he passed away. He just like an invasive type that just took over. He said, I’ve been to the mountaintop. Everything happens for a reason and we have to accept it. He said that himself. I never really meditated, but I like to stay in good physical shape and do exercises and all that and eat well. Because that keeps the whole body calm and the mind you’re doing what you feel is right. So there’s nothing that I have to worry about that I did wrong.
Or feel guilty about? None of that’s there, anything like that. So nothing causes me stress as far as worrying. I don’t have to worry about anything really. And things just happened.
AUDIO CLIP: The wind speeds now at 165 miles per hour, it was briefly at 175 miles per hour. Go ahead and show you some of the models.
BB ST. ROMAN: When I moved down here, I knew about hurricanes. Pretty soon. So I was personally prepared. I always kept lots of gallons of water on hand, rice and I have camping supplies anyway. But I could live without electricity for months and I had a lot of staples. I would just keep…
AUDIO CLIP: Worse still to come as the storm surge and as the rainfall from hurricane Katrina hits. Alright, let’s go to Louisiana, specifically. French Quarter of New Orleans.
BB ST. ROMAN: There was very little warning. The hurricane hit Sunday night. Friday afternoon everyone was still thinking it was going to Florida. So it wasn’t till Friday night, Saturday morning, just 48 hours before, that people realized uhoh coming to New Orleans. So there was a mad dash on Saturday to get outta town. And then on Sunday, of course.
AUDIO CLIP: A historic storm. I have never seen a storm like this with my eyes because this is the strongest storm that happened in my lifetime.
BB ST. ROMAN: It just went from just regular life on Friday to one extreme to the other. Well, I was working like 16 hours those days, Saturday and Sunday. Normally I’d be off, but I was out there because they decided to open up the Superdome as a shelter. So I was running the whole day. Nonstop calls over the radio. I was getting people also who were just in wheelchairs who weren’t homeless. Getting them out of there to get to the Superdome or to get to whatever point that they needed to get to.
Did our last transport around midnight Sunday night. And then the police called on the radio that the winds were above 50 miles an hour and everybody, all police had to get off the streets as well. Well, afterwards, Monday afternoon around three o’clock it was gone. We saw the palm trees down on Canal Street and lots of debris in the street. But some crumbled buildings here and there. But we thought, well, great, this was fine. We had no idea that the levees had broken and the water was starting to come across all the whole city of New Orleans.
AUDIO CLIP: My heart just dropped, even though I knew levees were breached before that. Seeing it, knowing that the fade of the city was sealed.
BB ST. ROMAN: The water came to the Superdome. Which is pretty far downtown by Wednesday afternoon or evening. And then it got down to the edges of the French Quarter Thursday morning. It started receding again. Thursday evening. Like it reached its point and then it still slowly backed off. Well, we still found a number of homeless people who had stayed. There was one woman, she was a big woman, mentally ill. She would always poop in her clothes. All of a sudden we found her like days later, standing out at a corner, Rampart Street where bus would normally go by.
We stopped to try to help her and she says, oh no, I’m waiting for the bus. And we’re trying to say, there are no buses. You really need to leave cuz there were no services. Of course, there’s nowhere to go eat. Nothing was open. She said, no, I’m waiting for the bus. So lo and behold, we look down the street and there’s a bus coming a regular RTA city bus. She runs out to flag it down. It stops and it’s full of soldiers. The soldiers had commandeered the bus. So they let her in. And there was a big stain on the back of her pants.
And I was just saying to myself what the soldiers thought of what she got on board. And then what she thought, seeing all soldiers, in there and nobody else. But they did evacuate her. She showed up back a few months later, she was back in town.
Well, Katrina’s maybe redefined how we helped the homeless, I guess. Because now we had a whole lot of homeless people. People who insisted on coming back. Their house wasn’t there. And then they’re just wandering around, not knowing what to do with their lives. Without any attachment anymore, but they’re back in the city. Now we have the city involved when we have a problem with too many people camped out in an area. Everybody’s on board. We get the social workers, the city. I’m there for transportation.
It’s a much better system now, and I think that’s is partially due to Katrina. Oh, we’re at Ozanam Inn, that’s a men’s shelter. One of three shelters we have for adult men in New Orleans, and it’s right after lunch. There’s a bunch of people hanging around here in the courtyard. They can sit out here anyway during the day. I take people from here to get state IDs once a week. So I’m here that often, at least.
Part of the problem with people out and staying in the shelters is that they’re in one bed and, you know, a few feet. So everyone’s all kind of claustrophobically contained in one room. If one person starts talking and making noise and it affects everybody else. And people get really frustrated with no privacy and things like that. We don’t have like a– what’s considered a low barrier shelter.
A 24-7 shelter that anybody can get into. I’ve been dreaming of a solution. And I’ve always wanted to find one central location that would fill the gaps. I have the solution to the Gap. It’s this big shelter. 2222 Poydras. Which I’m dreaming of. It’s a big old warehouse and it would be 24-7 for all these people that have the problems. It would accommodate them. And it’d be set up in a way that they would be happy to be there.
PRODUCER: That’s your dream.
BB ST. ROMAN: That’s my dream. All we need is a somebody with 2 million dollars to buy it and maybe another couple million to renovate it. And you know, supply staff for a couple years to get it going.
PRODUCER: Maybe today, tomorrow you could show me.
BB ST. ROMAN: Yeah, we can go to it right now. It’s very close. Yeah. It’s just a big warehouse. It’s two blocks long, 18 foot ceilings. Nothing inside. That’d be perfect. We’ll go out of here. This would be the sleeping area. Those, there’s some back, big, big windows, baywood. This would be the daytime area. See all in through here. All this would be open. Would’ve a fence out here as close to the corner as to the street as we can. What people really need is people are either restless or weary, we found out, out in the streets.
One old man told me, huddling under his blanket one day. He said, I just, I can’t go to the shelter because I don’t get peace of mind there. I have to do this at this time and that at that time. I’m herded around. He says, and out here I don’t get peace of mind cuz every minute somebody might come by and steal what little bit I got. Or the police will make me move or– and he just wanted to be able to rest and get peace of mind. And that’s what this would offer, my place would offer.
MAN ON STREET: Safer. They feel safer. Cause know it ain’t like you’re stuck in one place. That’s the main thing I look at. Especially like I say– the main thing I look at the guys that working. If you work during the day, if you get off too late, you can’t get in the shelter. If you work at night, you wanna sleep during the day, you can’t go out. there’s nowhere for a guy to go worked all day to sleep somewhere, get his head, except on the street.
BB ST. ROMAN: The hardest thing out here is when I do not have a service to connect somebody to. When they really need help and there’s nowhere to take ’em. There’s no help for them. Oh, I’m sorry. I’m trying to help you, but we just don’t have what you need. And so here’s some, maybe some other options, but they’re not what the person really needs and I know that.
MAN ON STREET: Y’all got any MRE’s back there? Out here, havin’ to hustle every single day to get what we need. You know, wash clothes. It’s a struggle. It’s a daily struggle.
BB ST. ROMAN: Homeless people live with great simplicity when you think about it. They have almost nothing out there. They’re living at the basic level, like these people up in the Himalayas or in Bangladesh. I mean, all over there would be people without anything who could be happy, who could still be content in a way, in their situation. The homeless people, they have maybe one bag, two bags, something like that. So they’re living really free. There is an, in a way, an advantage to that, not having all that responsibility.
When I think of like all my house payments and this and that all the time. Now, most of the homeless people they’d rather be inside rather than out on the street. But there are some that are resistant to all the responsibility that goes with having like a apartment or having to have a job and keeping all that going in their lives.
I try to keep to an eight hour day just because that’s what the city wants me to do. If it’s five o’clock and it’s been eight hours, I could just put somebody out on the street and say, okay, I’m going home. As long as there are people out here who have needs, I know there’s no one who could really replace me. I know that’s just not gonna happen. So of course in my work every day I’ve got something new to deal with and challenges and all that.
So I look at them eagerly and with curiosity and enthusiasm. I know that there’s gonna be something interesting that’s gonna come out of it that I’ll really appreciate the experience. So I’m never afraid of new things, new adventures.
MAN ON STREET: It’s in her.. I tell her, take a break. She said, I got something else to do. She do twice, triple times what the police officers do out here. Just by her showing up. Well, she’s, I would say she’s more important than the mayor for certain groups of certain populations of people. You heard..
BB ST. ROMAN: I can see how a lot of roads led to this point and they’ll lead on to other points too. So all those experiences out in all the third world countries, cuz New Orleans is kinda like a third world country a lot of times. So my philosophy does not adhere to any particular religious philosophy. But I feel I’ve like opened myself to that power to just flow through me. And that’s really the basis of my calmness. Am I enjoying being here? All that it was created.
And then all the people and how everybody’s so different and unique. There’s something that’s, to me, a core part of me is everything I do, I like to be able to help myself, but to help other people. I mean, it has to be both. If it’s just to help somebody else as a sacrifice to me. To me that’s not right because that’s upsetting a balance. If it’s just for me without any regard for other people, that’s definitely not right in my book. So I like to see both. I think that’s really important.