Hometown Heroes - A City of Refuge

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 6:50 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - A homeless shelter for veterans in Calcasieu parish continues to operate, despite losing its founder and sustaining heavy damage from the 2020 hurricanes. Because of that damage, “A City of Refuge” west of Vinton, is only able to house half the veterans they normally handle.

“My husband named it after the biblical reference of “The City of Refuge,” said Denise Stigen. “That’s where people went when they were being hunted down and accused of crimes. That sort of thing. Of course, him being a Vietnam veteran, he understood totally what the Vietnam vets were exposed to.”

Stigen is talking about her late husband, Rev. Burt Stigen, who died unexpectedly last October. Denise says it’s been a struggle to not only fill the gap left by his death, but to continue to rebuild.

“He was their mentor, the father figure some of them never had. So he’s dearly missed. There’s such big shoes to try to fill. Every once in a while, I say, ‘Okay, what am I supposed to do?’ Then I feel a little nudging.”

There are ten veterans living here now. They used to hold 20 before Laura damaged the rooms and cabins. Homer Alexander is a Marine veteran who came here from prison.

“When you’re locked up and the future looks bleak and somebody welcomes you with open arms. Pretty good,” said Homer Alexander, a veteran of the Marines.

Navy veteran Christopher Ross lives and works here.

“Here at the shelter, we function on donations only,” said Ross. “So there’s no particular preference. So if you want to donate, please donate. Whether it’s clothing, food, monetary. We accept all.”

The residents of City of Refuge took shelter in their new building during Hurricane Laura, but they are just now getting the kitchen in working order so they can begin serving hot meals again. Stigen says a big volunteer need for the City of Refuge right now is excavation work to help improve drainage on the property. For more information, call (337) 279-5630.

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