From worker to homeless and back again: New Orleans man credits - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

From worker to homeless and back again: New Orleans man credits Health Guardians

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Michael Francis said he slept on this bench at the corner of Canal St. and S. Robertson St. for nearly 5 months Michael Francis said he slept on this bench at the corner of Canal St. and S. Robertson St. for nearly 5 months
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

A debilitating heart disease sent a New Orleans man from working full-time to spiraling into homelessness in 2012.

"I had worked all my life. I had never dreamed that I would be homeless on the streets of New Orleans. Never," said Michael Francis.

He shared how easy it is for people with chronic medical problems to fall through the health care system cracks, and he credited Catholic Charities for his comeback.

Francis' life as a building engineer stopped in heartbeat.

"I went to work, a normal day, and I passed out and I woke up in the emergency room," said Francis.

It would be the first of more than 20 visits to the hospital. He had a diagnosis of congestive heart failure and a doctor's order to stop working.

"December the 12, 2012 was my last day of working," said Francis. "You start losing things like your utilities. The lights went off first, then the gas went off, then the water went off, then eventually I was evicted."

In just seven months, Francis was homeless.

Denied federal disability money, he said he tried to join a tent city under the bridge downtown, but he found the community was immersed in drugs and violence.

After realizing the danger of living under the bridge, and being the victim of theft at a shelter, Francis said he moved to a bench on Canal Street.

He said he napped there by day in order to stay alert at night for nearly five months during the hot summer.

All the while, like many others who aren't qualified for Medicaid or the Healthcare Exchange, Francis visited the emergency room for his condition.

"We see people in the ER so frequently that we know them by name sometimes," said Dr. Joseph Kanter, an emergency room physician at LSU Interim Hospital.

Kanter said he sees some patients up to four times a month for common diseases such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes and heart failure.

"It's disheartening when it's something that should be controllable," said Kanter.

"It's just a matter of finding the right people who really need the help who have these medical conditions who can't get to the right resources," said Meagan Relle, Francis' patient advocate through the Health Guardian program at Catholic Charities.

With the help of social workers, Meagan Relle and the Health Guardians staff at Catholic Charities found Francis at the hospital last summer.

The group gave him a place to stay, clothing, and helped get him medicine for his heart.

"You can't explain it, it's just, it's like you're being saved. These people actually saved my life," said Francis.

Francis now works to save the lives of others through volunteering. For example, he used his past experience as a building engineer to help build and paint a basketball court for former homeless at the Catholic Charities on Dante street.

His goal is to lighten the load for those who fall through the healthcare cracks like he did.

"It can happen to anybody," Francis said.

Health Guardians at Catholic Charities said the increasing level of poverty in New Orleans threatens what has been a downward trend of homelessness in the city.

According to UNITY, 1,981 people were homeless in New Orleans as of March 31, 2014.

To learn more or donate to Catholic Charities of New Orleans, click here.

The phone number for Health Guardians is 504-310-8751.

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