By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
COVINGTON – Ed “Cowboy” Lewis apparently did not think one monumental challenge was enough to take on.
Now he has two.
But when it comes to standing up for United States military veterans, Lewis is clearly a man who will not back off from any difficult task.
Lewis is president of a St. Tammany Parish group known as “Ride of the Brotherhood,” an organization started by him returning to Vietnam in search of the remains of MIA soldiers who never came home.
To work with the Vietnamese and American governments has been a huge challenge, but Lewis recently made a big step in the direction of success when he secured a Memorandum of Understanding with the American government about what efforts Ride of the Brotherhood will take.
Lewis hopes to return to Vietnam for yet another visit in early 2018 to begin the x-ray work of special sites identified as probable locations of American remains.
But now Lewis has another challenge back home, once again in the hopes of helping U.S. veterans who are homeless.
Ride of the Brotherhood has signed a contract with Agape Ministries, owners of the Danielle Inn just outside Covington, to purchase the 13-bedroom residence and turn it into Camp NORA, an emergency and transitional home for homeless veterans.
Lewis is rallying support from parish business leaders and corporations to help fund the huge endeavor that will require four, $50,000 payments on the home over the next 19 months. Total sales price on the 17-acre property that includes a two acre pond on the front of the land is $635,000. Agape Ministries has offered a lease/purchase agreement, however, Lewis must still find considerable operational costs as well.
He estimates an initial outlay of $350,000 to cover the $200,000 down payment, plus $3,200 monthly payments and money for furniture and other maintenance.
Additionally he needs $220,000 a year for six staff persons, plus $200,000 a year for operational costs. Camp NORA (No One Rides Alone) will receive $1,400 per month from the Veterans Administration for each veteran being housed there and the home can house as many as 25 veterans at a time.
“Yes, this is a huge undertaking,” Lewis said, showing off the purchase agreement he has already signed by faith. “We have several strong businessmen helping us right now and another one writing grants for our home. There are as many as four ways we can fund this and I’m believing we can do this since our veterans need it badly.”
Lewis, 64, pointed out statistics that prove the need for Camp NORA.
–One out of every four homeless males in the U.S. is a veteran.
–Veterans are twice as likely as other Americans to become chronically homeless.
–More than half a million veterans are homeless at some time during the year.
–In St. Tammany Parish there are as many as 30 homeless veterans on any given night.
Lewis said that veterans end up homeless due to combat duty related issues such as PTSD, disabling physical injuries or coming home with few marketable skills to find and keep a job.
“With no salary to support them, military families face a foreclosure rate four times the national average,” he said. “Lack of supportive services and social isolation after their discharge contribute to their plight.”
Camp NORA will offer more than just a bed and meal each day. Lewis said they will offer emergency housing (one to three days), transitional housing (up to 24 months) and long-term supportive housing (permanent). The program will offer drug and alcohol rehab services, medical and psychological assessments, job skill training and socialization integration.
“We want to help them get back to a productive life with a home and a job,” Lewis explained. “But we need the help of the community to do it.”
Highlighting the homelessness problem among veterans Lewis said there are currently eight veterans in the St. Tammany jail for minor offenses, but they will not get out because they are homeless and have nowhere to live.
“We think of ourselves as a blessed community here on the North Shore, but there is a need all around us. Camp NORA can save lives—we are giving you an opportunity through your stewardship to see your resources make a difference, specifically in the lives of many of our heroes who deserve so much more,” Lewis added.
For more information or to provide support, contact Lewis at 504-234-0778.