Catholic Charities in Louisiana appeals for aid after major spike in homelessness 

Denver Newsroom, May 19, 2020 / 04:49 pm (CNA).- In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic hitting the United States in mid-March, thousands of Americans were either furloughed or laid off from their jobs as non-essential businesses shuttered or restricted their operations in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

One of the harder-hit areas of the country has been Acadiana, Louisiana, a region in the southern third of the state that got its name from the Acadian population of the area, also known as Cajun or Creole Louisianans, who have French roots in the area of Acadia.

According to a 2019 report from Louisiana Association of United Ways, nearly half of Acadian Louisianans live paycheck to paycheck. For people in this situation, every pay period can mean the difference between having a place to live and being homeless.

That’s why Catholic Charities in Acadiana, Louisiana is appealing to the local mayor for additional funding from a federal grant to help shore up housing, after seeing a 58% spike in people experiencing homelessness in the region since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

This week, Catholic Charities wrote a letter to the Lafayette Consolidated Government, as well as the Lafayette City and Parish council members, appealing to them for aid from a federal grant given to the local government from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory has said he plans to use the $852,935 grant to help small businesses in the area who have suffered from the widespread shutdowns.

But Ben Broussard, the chief communications officer for Catholic Charities of Acadiana, said he hoped the funding could be used to help the rapidly increasing number of homeless people in the area.

“We have seen the rise in that instability; the calls to our services have gone up drastically,” Broussard told CNA.

The nearly 60% spike in homelessness in Acadiana is high, even compared to what is anticipated across the rest of the nation due to the pandemic. According to an analysis by a Columbia University economist, reported in the Los Angeles Times, the United States expects could see up to a 45% increase in homelessness due to fallout from the coronavirus.

Even before the virus hit Acadiana, Broussard said, “roughly 30% to 35% of folks are experiencing that level of poverty where they’re one missed paycheck away from (homelessness).”

“That’s just during normal times. And we have a very heavy retail and service economy in southern Louisiana, and those are some of the parts of the economy that have been hardest hit,” he said.

“So our concern has always been with housing stability and with food access. It doesn’t matter who you are…if you’re having to choose between putting food on the table or paying your bills, that’s a hard choice to make for a family or for an individual who’s reeling from not having the work that they had before,” he said.

Louisiana has been one of the harder-hit states when it comes to coronavirus, with 34,709 total cases and 2,440 deaths so far, according to reporting by the New York Times. Acadiana was one of the hotspots for the virus, Broussard added, and increasing the homeless population in the area could contribute to its spread.

“It is a rule of thumb that those who are chronically homeless…the longer you spend on the street, the harder it is on the human body. It ages you. It is taxing. And so we have always seen those that we serve who are experiencing homelessnes are part of a vulnerable clientele. They are those who were most susceptible to getting sick and suffering due to any virus, flu outbreaks, all those things,” he said.

Broussard said that while he wanted to make it clear that Catholic Charities wants to work with Mayor Guillory, he also wanted to make it clear that money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should first go toward housing, and that there was other money available for relief for small businesses, for example from the Small Business Association.

“As an organization that responds (to emergency needs), our desire is to see those funds be used for what they were intended to be used for, which is shoring up housing stability in the wake of a crisis,” Broussard said.

“There is money available for businesses through the Small Business Association, SBA. But we can’t access SBA money to fund shelters and to provide for people who are in crisis,” he added.

Besides social distancing making some processes of Catholic Charities more difficult – like serving soup kitchen meals or spreading out people staying in shelters – it has also meant that Catholic Charities has had to forgo all in-kind donations such as donated food or clothing, in order to prevent bringing the virus into its facilities.

“That’s tens of thousands of dollars worth of donations that people bring us every year” that Catholic Charities in Acadiana is currently having to forgo, Broussard said. “And so that added to the economic hardship on the organization.”

According to local ABC affiliate KATC 3, the Lafayette City and Parish Councils were holding an emergency joint meeting to discuss increasing grant revenues on Tuesday.

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