New Orleans native Erin Jackson Earls now lives in Los Angeles, but she is dedicated to helping the city recover from Katrina. After reading "Under the Bridge" by Greg Thomas in Gambit Weekly (Feb. 12), she knew she had to do something.
With assistance from UNITY of Greater New Orleans and Salvation Army, Earls, a public relations professional, and her husband Dennis, a real estate developer, investor and broker, last week gave two families who have been homeless since Katrina keys to a duplex in Gentilly, where they can live rent-free for a year.
Erin says she was aware thousands of homes had been destroyed by Katrina the levee breaches and that many people had no place to live, but she was moved when she saw the congregation of homeless under the Claiborne Avenue overpass when her job brought her to the city during the 2008 NBA All Star Weekend.
"I was aware of the situation, but I wasn't aware of the statistics," Erin says. "While there for All Star Weekend, I passed by the people underneath the bridge each day, and then I read an article in [Gambit], and I knew that it was important for me to do something about it."
Having already seen it for herself, Erin said the article "really brought it home." When she returned to Los Angeles, she told her husband about what she saw and read the article to him.
"The most disturbing thing I learned was that these were not the stereotypical homeless people that I was seeing," Erin says. "Some of them were people with jobs who went to work each day they weren't people with mental issues or (drug) addicts."
She and her husband, who started the New Orleans-based Spencer Group Investments Corp. in 2005 as a result of Hurricane Katrina, have rebuilt 32 houses in Gentilly, Uptown and eastern New Orleans, decided they could help at least two families get back on their feet. They worked with UNITY New Orleans and the Salvation Army's Transitional Housing Program to select the families, one a couple with a teenage daughter, and the other a couple with two toddler boys.
"We wanted families that were working and simply victims of circumstance," Erin says. 'They are genuinely in the process of re-establishing their lives and independence."