‘End of the line’ tent camp for homeless people broken up

Several tents in an open field
People experiencing homelessness were allowed to set up tents behind St. Joseph Diner last fall, but the camp was broken up this week due to safety concerns. Photo by Robin May

Dozens of people living in a tent camp in Lafayette’s LaPlace neighborhood packed up to leave with no clear destination Thursday. Safety concerns spurred the staff of Catholic Charities of Acadiana to disperse the encampment, which served as a stopgap solution given the lack of local shelter space.     

Episodes of violence and other security issues caused tension among neighbors as the encampment got bigger and lingered. The issue came to a head Wednesday when gunshots were fired while aid workers were on site. 

“It is no longer feasible for Catholic Charities of Acadiana to continue allowing outdoor overnight sleeping on their property, due to a lack of funding to hire staff and security to ensure the safety of each person on our campus,” the service organization said in a statement to The Current. 

Catholic Charities has long run services for homeless people in the neighborhood, also called Fightinville, but a prolonged lack of available shelter has led to more and more people living on the street. As a temporary measure, Catholic Charities began allowing unhoused people to set up tents behind St. Joseph Diner on Simcoe Street last year. 

“When we started letting folks camp on the property back in September of last year, it was probably 10 to 12 folks,” says Catholic Charities spokesman Ben Broussard. Most in the camp were people the organization did not have space for or who had circumstances that prevented them from entering a shelter in the first place. “As that number grew, it just got to a point where we just can’t ensure safety,” Broussard says.

LaPlace residents say a fight between two people believed to be minors, neither of whom lived in the encampment, escalated into gun violence Thursday afternoon while Catholic Charities’ staff handed out meals. Roughly 10 shots were fired, witnesses say, but no injuries were reported. Police are looking into the incident, according to a Lafayette Police Department spokesperson. 

Catholic Charities will continue to serve meals out of St. Joseph Diner, but it’s not clear where  those pushed out of the encampment will go. There simply aren’t enough shelter beds, a problem exacerbated during the pandemic following the closure of several shelters in Lafayette.

“Unfortunately, the good are gonna suffer for the one bad player,” Broussard says. “We’ve started working with people [to move them] to different locations. I can’t tell you where they’re going. Our property was kind of the end of the line.” 

Several residents of the encampment declined interviews, citing fear that speaking out would put them in danger, but they expressed confusion and frustration with the decision.

James Proctor, a LaPlace resident, says breaking up the camp isn’t a solution, and that it will likely make it even harder for those experiencing homelessness to access resources.

“They’re human beings just like us. A lot of people in the city are one paycheck from being right there,” Proctor says.