Steps from the walk-through metal detector inside New Orleans City Hall are a few beige recliners in a small, softly lit room, where an attached office allows social workers, ministers and other faith-based volunteers to lend an ear to the public and connect people to the city’s spectrum of care.
On Oct. 25, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, city officials and area faith leaders cut the ribbon for a “meditation room,” what Cantrell says is a “safe space for our people to come, to reflect, even to seek counsel if they need it.”
A social worker with the city’s Office of Youth and Families will oversee clinical interns, who will be available to the public to help connect them to city services and other health organizations. It’s open 10 .m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
A rotating group of volunteer interfaith ministers also will be available to “be an ear” for the public, department director Emily Wolff told Gambit. “It’s not spiritual counseling that’s aligned with one faith or another."
There currently are 12 ministers in the rotation. The administration hopes to increase that pool to 40, available at least one day a month.
Wolff says the room and related services are part of the administration’s anti-violence initiatives that promote preventative measures for youth in crisis and their families. City Hall social workers won’t necessarily counsel those children and families directly “but link them to other services and be that hand off,” Wolff said. “There are so many services available in city and in the nonprofit community, it’s just about making those connections.”
Mayor LaToya Cantrell kicked off a series of crime awareness and prevention events in New Orleans on Tuesday by announcing new funding for an …
The room’s opening follows recent retooling of the city’s 3-1-1 service for non-emergency calls; residents also can call the number to connect to counseling.
“This is not a show. This is about addressing the trauma that lives with many of our families and many of our people every single day,” Cantrell said. “We have experienced a lot of trauma — some recognized, some not recognized. This is a holistic approach about wellness and public health.”
But the room’s more immediate service is in providing several quiet seats available for anyone to “sit down in and collect their thoughts,” Cantrell said. One shelf holds a few essential oils; a diffuser is in the adjacent office, which also holds a desk and a reclining chair for one-on-one consultations.
New Orleans Health Department director Jennifer Avegno said allowing space and time for meditation and reflection can improve health by lowering blood pressure and reducing stress, which potentially can prevent trips to emergency care.
“We don’t want to wait until they’re in crisis and have to go to a hospital or go to a clinic,” she said. “We want them to be able to come and begin the healing process at some place that’s accessible that they might not think about but that’s always there for them.”
Avegno says the room is part of the administration's approach to “bring care and healing in places that are nontraditional.”
In August, the New Orleans Police Department staffed three social workers in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Districts to offer victim advocacy, crisis intervention and other services. That move was supported by a federal Victims of Crime Act grant.
“Gun violence has played a major role in this added trauma that our people are faced with,” Cantrell said. “If people are going through things and they need someone to talk to, we want to create that space.”