I Found Mother Teresa in New Orleans And she rides a motorcycle.

Story and photographs by Christopher Briscoe

I found divine inspiration under a freeway overpass in New Orleans. It wasn’t a holy setting, but these things never are. Police tech B.B. St. Roman is doing her thing, mingling with a group of homeless folk, laid out across the asphalt in their sleeping bags, eating cold macaroni.

Helping the homeless underneath a bridge in New Orleans.
Many might miss the nearly 3 feet of dreads

B.B., an eleven year police veteran, is rarely behind her desk on the second floor of the historic 1826 Bank of Louisiana building. She prefers to be out here, working with the +- 1,500 homeless people making do with what little options they have. She looks confident in her blue uniform. Many might miss the nearly 3 feet of dreads neatly tucked into a net behind her police cap. But they won’t overlook her rock-solid black combat boots. “I feel very protected with my uniform on,” B.B. proudly tells me. She does not carry a gun. “My smile is my weapon,” she says.

B.B. gets another hug.

In fact, B.B. once knew Mother Teresa. Before becoming the Homeless Assistance Director for New Orleans Police Department, B.B. worked with documentary film crews as a sound recordist, lugging around a shotgun mic through 30 countries. In 1983, she was in Beirut, working on a documentary about Mother Teresa. When the bombs started to drop, B.B. and her film crew had to be evacuated by helicopter.

B.B. gives some advice on the steps of the New Orleans Police Department.

She met the Dalai Lama, too.

Later, B.B. was Dr. John’s road manager. When she introduced me to the six-time Grammy award winner, he pointed to the heavens and told me, “B.B. was sent to me from up there.”

B.B. with her friend, Grammy winner Dr. John

"I was Dr. John's road manager 24/7 for 10 years — organizing band members, music charts, stage gear, hotels, transportation — I put it all together,” B.B. says. “I love organizing and being efficient. Dr. John showed me a lot of respect, letting me do the job in my own way.”

B.B. chats with her bird, Iko.
With tears in his eyes,

On her infrequent days off, BB likes to ride her flat black Honda Shadow motorcycle. With only a turquoise bandana to cover her head, her dreads fall past her belt. Most weekday mornings, back in uniform, B.B. pedals her bicycle to work through the quaint streets of the French Quarter. Many times she is surprised to see someone chasing her. “Wait! B.B., wait!” Instead of pedaling faster, B.B. puts her boot to the curb as a homeless man, out-of-breath, runs up to her. “I just want you to know how much I love you, B.B.!” With tears in his eyes, he goes on, “You are in my heart.”

Dianne Folse, left, has been living under the freeway bridge since Hurricane Katrina.

This kind of scene, in which B.B. plays a central role, repeats itself almost daily with different characters, all with their own stories, all of them unique, yet many the same.

One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to somebody.

B.B. explains with compassion, “These people are disconnected. That’s why they’re homeless. They are stuck. Some are smart and some are not so smart. There is so much loneliness and depression. They feel invisible. The public looks the other way.”

To quote Mother Teresa, “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to somebody.”

B.B.’s strategy for offering help can sometimes be surprisingly simple: “Plenty of times they need nothing more complicated than help getting a state I.D. Without that, they can’t stay in a shelter, get a post office box, cash a check or have any hope of getting a job. Any program, any service they need, requires a state I.D. That’s a big part of my job. I am constantly working to get them the services they need.”

Quatavius Washington gives B.B. A hug. "She helped me get my I.D. so I could take my G.E.D. so I could go to college!"

There are no funds available to pay B.B. for the umpteen extra hours she works. Most of her time — including many nights unto 2 a.m — is spent working for the homeless. To B.B., there is no “overtime.” Her work is her passion, her life. Her real paycheck arrives with every hug and every tear of gratitude. That is what drives B.B.

On her infrequent days off, B.B. St. Roman likes to ride her flat black Honda Shadow.
Miracles show up every day in my job.

New Orleans continues to have one of the highest murder rates in the country. In 2013, 155 people were killed in the city. I asked B.B. what was the worst thing that has happened to her during the 10 years she’s worked for the police department. I expected to hear the kind of scary stories I’d already heard from friends in town. She looked away and thought before responding. “The worst times? Those are the times in my van when I’ve got a homeless person sitting in the back seat who needs my help and there is no service available for what they need. I have to put them back on the street.”

B.B. looks into my eyes and smiles. “But most of the time, I find some way to help. Miracles show up every day in my job.”

Not all heroes wear capes. This one wears a mean pair of black combat boots.

Created By
Christopher Briscoe
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All photos copyright Christopher Briscoe

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