BATON ROUGE - Tonight, a neighborhood in North Baton Rouge is standing behind a man who has been a fixture in the area for more than two decades.
Joseph Dartez's home is falling down. Despite that, he has a lot to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving. He's faced so much adversity, but is grateful for the smallest of blessings. Dartez has spent his entire life working. He's retired now, and gets joy out of gardening and tending to his precious plants.
The beauty of his flowers, mask the ugliness he encounters everyday.
"Termites ate away at the foundation," Dartez said.
Dartez's North Baton Rouge home is collapsing. The roof is falling down. Insulation from the attic is all over the floor. The rafters and studs are buckling and ready to give way.
"The front room and the kitchen are completely gone," Dartez said.
Tonight, he's afraid the whole house will fall down.
Despite those issues, Dartez has utilities. That's evident by looking at the flashing clocks plugged into the wall. He's lived on Dutton Street near the old Earl K. Long Hospital for more than 20 years. His plight is felt by many African American neighbors who make it a point to look out for the old white guy.
"It hurts me to my core," Stephanie Bureau said. "If I had more room in my house, he'd be a member of my family. My husband even watches out for him sometimes."
Stephanie Bureau and other neighbors routinely help him.
"I take him to the store," Bureau said. "I take him to go vote, whenever he has paperwork he doesn't understand he comes to me. I do things on the computer for him. Whatever he needs Mr. Joe comes to me."
But, they've never been able to get him housing assistance.
"We are a country of bounty," Bureau said. "Among the bounty there is so much despair. But there has to be people who come out of his heart to help him. We have tried other places to get him help. Wherever he went he already had to have money. He doesn't have money. I don't have any money to help him."
Despite the dilapidated state of the home, Dartez loves it there. That's why he doesn't want to leave. His wife died in the house.
"He couldn't afford a funeral," Bureau said. "He sprinkled her ashes around the rose bushes."
Dartez's problems are vast. He's still paying a mortgage on the home that neighbors believe needs to be condemned. They're pleading for anyone who can help him.
"Mr. Dartez is someone who deserves a blessing," Bureau said.
Reflecting on his life, Dartez doesn't hold grudges. He's grateful just to be alive, and is happy for loving neighbors like Bureau.
If you'd like to help Dartez, you can send Chris Nakamoto an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.