The path to Monroe, Louisiana for New Yorker and Salvation Army officer, Sergeant Jerome Casey was a long and winding road to say the least. Addiction put him in jail with rehabilitation through The Salvation Army his last hope. It worked. The three years prior to his arrival in Monroe he ran the shelter in Gulfport, Mississippi and led several men down the same path to recovery he chose.
Casey has the same frame of mind when facing the challenge of restoring The Salvation Army on Hart Street. He’s honest and meets it head on.
“We were kind of a mess, to be honest with you. We’ve cleaned it up dramatically,” said Casey.
Casey arrived just after The Salvation Army was forced to close its shelter’s doors late last summer due to lack of funding. With only one remaining employee, Casey needed to make friends fast, but the closing of Monroe’s only overnight shelter didn’t make things easy for the first-time officer. That’s when Casey met Larry Joe Head.
“Larry welcomed me with open arms. He’s someone who came to volunteer, and he’s turned into quite a good friend, him and his wife,” said Casey.
The lifelong Monroe native, Head became the Sergeant’s connection to the community. Both men have turned the shelter project into a labor of love for this community. Each very complimentary of the other’s willingness to get things done.
“The Sarg is like no other, I guess you can say,” said Head. “It’s really interesting, when he starts talking, people just gravitate towards him.”
“Larry’s always doing something,” said Casey. “I’ll walk into a room where there was nothing and there’s lights and paint, and I don’t know how he does it. He keeps moving forward. He’s wonderful.”
With Larry Joe’s connections, 140 volunteers have worked nearly one thousand hours to get The Salvation Army’s shelter back open. Unfortunately, this is no overnight project. The Salvation Army first opened in Monroe in 1927. Its current location and building was established in 1961.
“There’s a lot of things been done over the years. Most of it has been adding on top of what was already there,” said Head. “So, some of the things we did, we went all the way down to the original and took it out and replaced it with new stuff. But there’s been a good bit of fix up.”
Still, Casey remains positive.
He plans to create a whole new way of caring for the homeless including opening what he calls the courtyard of hope at 2pm. That means no lining up outside the building or sitting on the street curb waiting. He wants to bring in mobile medical facilities and extend the shelter hours in the morning till 10am, allowing Casey to have one on one time with each person to find out their needs. Casey says all of this with one thing in mind.
“It’s about instilling an ounce of hope. A little bit of hope goes along way.”
With remodeling nearing completion, the next challenge is securing enough funding to hire new employees for cooking, laundry, and overnight monitoring.
“The generosity of Monroe has been tremendous since I walked in this building, and I know they will support us as we help those who need it the most,” said Casey.