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This Monday, Americans will honor those soldiers who have died serving our country.

What better way to honor their memory, than to work to ensure that their most vulnerable living peers—those veterans experiencing homelessness and working to integrate themselves back into society—receive the health and social support they have unquestionably earned?

That’s exactly what newly-selected New Orleans Schweitzer Fellows Reece Alkire and Meagan Relle—both students at LSU Health Science Center School of Public Health—will spend the next year doing. As Schweitzer Fellows, Alkire and Relle will work with Volunteers of America to develop and implement a disease prevention and health education curriculum based at a homeless veterans’ transitioning facility in uptown New Orleans.

Sadly, the population projects like Alkire and Relle’s serve is a large one: The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that between 130,000 and 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and that “three times that many veterans are struggling with excessive rent burdens and thus at increased risk of homelessness.”

In New Orleans, already devastated by Katrina and now facing disastrous fallout from the ongoing oil spill, between 17,000 and 19,000 men, women and children are homeless.

A New Orleans native, Relle’s own experience with displacement was temporary but galvanizing.

“In August 2005, myself and many others were forced out of our homes by a catastrophic storm,” Relle says. “For nearly two months, Hurricane Katrina gave me a glimpse at the challenges presented while without a permanent home.”

Now she and Alkire are taking action to empower veterans experiencing homelessness to face those challenges.

“Recently, Volunteers of America (VOA) opened a new facility that provides temporary housing for homeless veterans,” Relle says. “The Veterans Affairs Hospital and the Volunteers of America are developing life skills courses that provide the residents with the ability to make wise choices and maintain a life off the street. After discussion with VOA employees, we discovered that the life skills courses do not include health education. To fill this void, Reece and I will develop and implement a disease prevention and health education curriculum.”

Alkire and Relle hope that the health education classes they develop will lower transmission rates of infectious diseases, encourage regular health screenings and checkups, and promote a healthier population of veterans in New Orleans.

“Disease prevention and hygiene are crucial to an individual’s health,” Alkire says. “The project we propose will educate the homeless population on preventative measures they can realistically take to prevent disease. The lessons taught by our curriculum will provide rehabilitated homeless veterans with knowledge to make healthier life choices.”

To support the New Orleans Schweitzer Fellows Program—funded entirely through grants and charitable donations—click here.