Local Veterans First: Gentilly apartment complex gives veterans in need a place to call home
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A morning yoga class is part of the weekly routine for Coast Guard Veteran Belard Ernest.
“The yoga kind of keeps me calm without medication,” Ernest said.
Ernest lives in a community all its own on Mirabeau Avenue in Gentilly.
“Bastion is a place where you learn yourself, I think because I had to figure out how my courage was and my confidence,” Ernest explained. “They helped build that for me.”
Ernest has lived at Bastion for seven years alongside dozens of other veterans and their families.
“If it wasn’t for the military, I don’t know if I would be able to deal with my situation right now,” Ernest said. “I was 38 when I started losing my sight, and if it had not been for some of the skills, and some of the courage I got in the military, I couldn’t have did it. It would have been too tough to do.”
Ernest said he learned to trust and independence at Bastion.
“It’s hard enough not seeing people, but when you have to do everything and go here and go there, and that’s when the things that you learned in the past kick in,” Ernest explained. “The past has a lot to do with my future. I’m learning that now here at Bastion.”
Bastion is an intentional-living community completed in 2018. It is made up of 58 apartment homes that are designed to promote togetherness.
It is where Army Veteran Tyler Smith seeks refuge. Smith served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne in Iraq. During his time overseas in the 2000s, Smith said he started feeling numbness in one of his arms, and a couple of days later, he said that numbness moved down to his leg.
“I went back to the medic, and they were like ‘everything is fine. I mean you’re young. I mean, we’d be more worried if you were slurring your speech,’” Smith explained. “One of the soldiers that worked with me caught me at like 1:00 in the morning, rambling, and so he was like ‘oh no, something is up.’ So, he ran and got the medic, and they were like ‘okay, we need to Life Flight him.”
Smith said medical professionals later realized he had bleeding in his brain.
“I went to Germany, and they looked at it more and more, and they said, ' we got to get you back to the States,’” Smith recalled.
Smith said he did two years of inpatient rehab, and once he got out of the military...
“I was not only dealing with getting out of the military. I’m also having to juggle my own disability and the new me,” Smith explained.
Then, the Georgia native found Bastion and moved to New Orleans.
“Everything was getting closed up, and I was losing places to go,” Smith said. “I had applied for Bastion, and luckily, they responded back at my time of need, and that’s how I ended up coming here. It was at the perfect time.”
“Bastion is special because it’s a place where regardless of the nature of your military service, regardless of whether you deployed overseas, regardless of what kind of obstacles or issues that have brought you here, this is a place where you can come and be safe, vulnerable, you can form the relationship that will carry you forward,” Executive Director of Bastion Jackson Smith said.
Marine Veteran Smith said this community does not just serve the vets who live at the 5.5-acre complex.
“Bastion is able to serve as a resource hub, not only through the programs that we provide, but who we are able to bring in through our network,” Smith said. “It’s all about creating the lowest possible barrier to getting the help that veterans need.”
That includes veterans like Ernest and Smith, who said despite their disabilities and challenges they still face, Bastion gives them a sense of self, a sense of community, and a sense of home.
“It’s really nice to be able to kind of understand that I’m not the only one dealing with the same stuff I am,” Smith explained.
“We’re a family, and we stick together like a family,” Ernest concluded.
Bastion works with organizations including the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project.
If you or someone you know is interested in learning about Bastion, visit https://www.joinbastion.org/.
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