Acadiana ‘really responded’ during February freeze

A rainbow appears above a back section of rooms at Harvey Patel's motel; when this photo was taken Sept. 15, updates were underway so the property could to take in more homeless guests. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: Hotel rooms arranged by local housing advocates kept hundreds of people warm during last week’s crushing freeze. Donations poured in across the Acadiana region. But the makeup of people in need underscores rising housing insecurity in the area. 

“The community really responded,” said Leigh Rachal, executive director of Acadiana Regional Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, on a Friday call coordinating efforts among the region’s nonprofits. 

ARCH needed $200,000 to get through the February freeze. Community contributions, including a $30,000 match from the Stuller Family Foundation, raised $110,000 with a pool of FEMA dollars making up the difference. The program wound down Tuesday.

580 households got shelter through emergency freeze shelters. Altogether, more than 800 people booked into hotels across the eight-parish region. Another 170 people remain in hotels booked for a separate Covid shelter program managed by ARCH.

Most receiving shelter were without any housing at all, including people living outdoors or in cars. Those numbers have risen throughout the pandemic. At least 12% were coming from homes damaged by hurricanes or fled houses otherwise unable to protect them from the cold. 

“That’s been really eye-opening for me,” Rachal tells The Current in an interview. She was “overwhelmed” by the number of calls for shelter spurred by a lack of adequate housing.

And then there were evictions. Despite a federal moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, the number of renters facing so-called “informal” evictions in Acadiana is rising. Court proceedings appear to be holding steady, but nonprofit agencies that work with low-income families are nonetheless fielding more calls from people who have been pushed out of housing. 

Rachal herself took around 25 calls for freeze shelter from renters who recently lost housing. All but one decided not to take their case to court, prefering to avoid the risk of losing a legal battle. Having an eviction recorded can keep renters from finding new housing. 

“There’s some wisdom in that especially as they hear from their neighbors or friends that you can be evicted,” Rachal says. 

Approximately $7 million in rent assistance will be available in Lafayette Parish. Lafayette Consolidated Government received the funding in the last federal coronavirus stimulus. Catholic Charities and SMILE Community Action agency have been tapped to distribute it.