Louisiana’s emergency hotel shelters have stopped taking in new households

Photo courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

The gist: Hundreds of unhoused families, including children, have moved into hotel rooms serving as de facto shelters since April. State housing officials have asked regional partners to stop taking more into shelters, signaling that the program is likely to end soon, leaving many without anywhere else to go. 

341 Acadiana households are living in hotel shelters, the highest manifest in the state. The New Orleans area is second on the state’s list with 288. Last week, the Louisiana Housing Corporation asked housing agencies to stop offering new 30-day vouchers for people seeking shelter, according to Leigh Rachal, executive director of the Acadiana Regional Coalition for Housing and Homelessness. LHC has not made any formal declaration ending the program. But Rachal says stopping new admissions shows the writing is on the wall; it’s just not clear when the program will end altogether. 

“We’re going to need a lot more places for people to rent. And we’ll need them available immediately,” Rachal says. 

LHC did not respond to a request for comment.

Other Louisiana cities, armed with larger funds for housing assistance, began moving families into more permanent housing earlier. But in Acadiana, a lack of available rental assistance and housing within a reachable price range has slowed the transition

Funding and speed is a big problem. Moving hundreds of families into housing is a big undertaking, and funding is moving slowly across the board, even as it’s been outstripped by demand. The first phase of LHC’s rental relief program ran out of money in less than 24 hours, its site flooded by 40,000 applications. 

Delays and uncertainty are problematic for the hotel partners, too. Since taking over funding the hotel shelter program, LHC has fallen behind on payments to hotel owners. One owner in Lafayette, who has kept dozens of people in his remodeled hotel on the Evangeline Thruway since April, says LHC is two months behind. He’s offered a discounted rate to the state housing corporation — which will be reimbursed by FEMA — but the cash flow represents a lifeline for his business. 

“If this is the final week, that would be a disaster,” says Harvey Patel, the hotel owner. “If this is the final month, then we’ll have some time to organize ourselves and get things going.” 

Dozens have been turned away for lack of options. Rachal estimates between 50 and 70 unhoused people are without any shelter. By this fall, with no changes, Rachal expects that number to climb to 100 and to be measured in hundreds by Christmas.