Christiaan Mader

Christiaan Mader founded The Current in 2018, reviving the brand from a short-lived culture magazine he created for Lafayette publisher INDMedia. An award-winning investigative and culture journalist, Christiaan’s work as a writer and reporter has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Offbeat, Gambit, and The Advocate.

Reader Talk: What to do with Alfred Mouton?

We asked readers this week to sound off: Is it time for the statue of Alfred Mouton to go? Here’s what they had to say.

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‘Have you ever heard of a black man with a cheese knife?’ — A conversation with artist Cory Stewart

His Acadiana Black Pride Flag has caught on as a local symbol of solidarity with the nation’s swelling protests and calls for change

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Healthcare providers staying prepped as Lafayette’s coronavirus cases continue to rise

The gist: Nationally, there’s growing concern the U.S. may already be seeing signs of a second wave — researchers say it’s still the first wave — in states that have begun to reopen, including Louisiana’s neighbors in the South. Locally, healthcare providers are keeping an eye on a sustained growth in new cases.

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Here’s the data: 

  • 47,172 (+4,122) cases statewide; 2,906 (+75) deaths
  • 3,157 (+576) cases in Acadiana (LDH Region 4); 193 deaths (+10) 
  • 1,202 (+305) cases in Lafayette; 32 deaths (+2) 

“Let’s just say we’re hoping for the best but prepared for what may come,” Lafayette General Health’s spokeswoman says of the uptick the hospital group is experiencing this week. Patricia Parks Thompson says the system’s five hospitals treating COVID-19 patients had been holding steady at about 20 patients last week (two on vents at the time and three others on vents pending results), but that number has increased more than 50 percent. The system is up to 32 positives today (four in ICU, one on a vent) with another 13 inpatients who have COVID-19 symptoms awaiting test results. “They’re treated as if they are positive, put in an isolation room,” Thompson says.

That’s an alarming increase. In fact, a few weeks ago the main campus, Lafayette General Medical Center, closed its fifth floor COVID-19 unit and only had a few patients on the fourth floor coronavirus unit. Last week the decision was made to reopen the fifth floor. 

Since the Phase 2 opening on June 5, Lafayette Parish’s case count has risen 41 percent. Excluding the 152 cases reported in a released backlog, the rise is 25%.

“We know that people are really starting to let their guard down,” Thompson says. “We’re seeing case counts rise across the state,” she adds, also noting the impact of increased testing. The LGH system’s peak, reached the day after Easter, was 72 patients. “We’re in very good shape for PPE [and staffing] this time,” she says.

Trend to watch this week: Over the weekend, LDH released another backlog of coronavirus cases dating to late April, registering almost 1,300 statewide on Saturday. Lafayette Parish added 152 new cases out of 3,530 tests, briefly reversing the recent climb in positivity. On Monday, Lafayette added 54 new cases for a cumulative positivity of 5.2%, while statewide positivity declined to 9.1%. — Additional reporting by Leslie Turk

Sweating coronavirus eviction surge, legal community urges renters and landlords to settle up outside of court

The gist: Evictions were put on ice for the last several months, but the pause will finally end June 15. Waiting for a dam to break, legal experts and court officials say renters and landlords should try to work through back payments before hitting the courts. 

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High unemployment, reduced pay and months without access to courts could yield record eviction filings. Greg Landry, executive director of Acadiana Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit firm that provides free representation to low-income clients, says he expects a flood to come through when Louisiana’s temporary eviction ban is lifted. The stay has been extended several times, moving along with the governor’s pandemic-related executive orders, but no more extensions are expected. Landry’s office has been receiving calls for housing representation throughout the pandemic, but with courts closed for several weeks, ALSC’s only available recourse was to recommend that clients try to work it out with their landlords. And that advice hasn’t really changed, even as his office prepares for a big influx of calls. 

“Landlords don’t generally want to get rid of good tenants. They don’t make any money on an empty apartment,” Landry says. Reasons for evictions can range, but given historic unemployment, Landry expects most evictions will be premised on nonpayment. For renters who have have been rehired or regained some income lost over the last few months, the ideal path forward is to work out payment plans. Both sides have incentive to see it through without turning to the courts. 

During the eviction ban, landlords could give notice but could not act on evictions. State law starts a five-day clock from the time landlords tell their renters to leave. Once that window expires, landlords can sue for eviction. Those clocks were paused March 16 but will start ticking again Monday wherever they left off.

“All of these evictions have been sort of stacking up, for a long while. All of that pent up demand is going to hit up the courts,” Landry says. 

Housing and community advocates report that some landlords and renters are reaching those kinds of agreements. But good faith doesn’t cover every situation. Many people will remain without income and face the eventual end of expanded unemployment benefits. Landry points out that tenants on the financial margins would be hard pressed to use stimulus dollars to make up for mounting bills, even as others find unemployment benefits temporarily more generous. His firm expects a high volume of calls for representation for a variety of coronavirus-related needs — domestic violence, family law, etc. — on top of the looming housing caseload and is working to add more attorneys. In a normal year, his staff, which covers 42 parishes west of the Mississippi River, handles hundreds of eviction cases every year. The ALSC is seeing a spike in visits to the housing section on the firm’s website. 

211 has received 1,373 calls for housing help since March 30. In recent weeks, call frequency has declined, but a recent report put out by housing advocates estimates that metro Lafayette renters will need $54 million in rental assistance through the end of the year, assuming high unemployment is sustained. Even if astronomical unemployment projections come back down to earth, housing instability is expected to be a major problem going forward as the local economy sputters back to life. 

Representation is key for renters facing eviction. Many renters facing eviction are unaccustomed to the process and unaware of their rights. A report by the Philadelphia Bar Association found that without representation, roughly 78% of tenants sued for eviction face “disruptive displacement,” but tenants with representation managed to stay housed in 95% of cases. In 2019, the city of Philadelphia established a free legal defense program for renters to address what advocates say is an imbalance of legal resources between landlords, who often have lawyers, and tenants, who don’t

Not every tenant will be without protection. The CARES Act — mostly known as the federal government’s multi-trillion dollar relief program — also extended a national ban on evictions in properties receiving U.S. government support through federal housing vouchers, low-income tax credits or federally backed mortgages. That pause remains in effect through Aug. 24, but covers only about a quarter of renters nationwide. 

That means it’s not really clear when the shoe will drop or how big it will be. Lafayette City Court Chief Judge Doug Saloom told The Advocate that 20 eviction filings are pending for next week, with another 30 or so waiting in the wings. He expects the numbers to swell in late August or early September once all the eviction protections are lifted. It remains unclear how many tenants in Lafayette Parish are covered by the federal protections. 

“We have no idea how many are out there. We’re getting a lot of calls but not a lot of numbers,” Saloom told The Advocate.

Lafayette loses more shelter space as housing needs mount

The gist: Deterioration of the facility and a lack of funding have shuttered a men’s shelter operated by the Salvation Army of Lafayette. Shelter operators are already squeezed for space. Housing advocates have seen housing needs rise quickly since coronavirus struck and are warning that conditions could get historically bad without massive relief. 

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Closing the shelter was in the works before the pandemic. But the loss nevertheless comes at a bad time. The 26 men staying there have been relocated to hotels, where most of the Lafayette area’s overflow of unsheltered people have been housed since the pandemic took hold. 

“It became apparent that the shelter’s closure is necessary because the building’s condition does not meet the standards of a Salvation Army shelter,” Divisional Secretary Captain Mark Hunter told KLFY this week. Thursday was the shelter’s last day of operation. Salvation Army’s kitchen and counseling services will continue. 

Lafayette has now lost 80 shelter beds since the beginning of the pandemic. A “low barrier” shelter operated by Catholic Charities of Acadiana was closed because its arrangement was ill-suited to house people and keep them safe from coronavirus. Shelter residents checked in for overnight stays and used floor space, which was routinely packed, says Leigh Rachal, CEO of Acadiana Regional Coalition on Housing and Homelessness. 

“It’s a stress to the system for sure,” she says of the Salvation Army shelter’s closing. “Each additional person we’re trying to find shelter space for is one more bed we don’t have.” 

Homelessness has risen 62% in Lafayette Parish since the onset of the pandemic. As incomes are slashed and job opportunities remain scarce, housing advocates have called the rise unprecedented and are warning that the need will worsen if more isn’t done to keep people who are nearing eviction in their homes. Some of 548 people currently in local shelters are without housing for the first time, pushed off the financial cliff when they lost their jobs during the lockdown of the national economy. 

More than 1,300 people have called 211 asking for help with housing since the end of March. The trend in calls was briefly the most common call 211 agents received in the Lafayette area around the late April peak. Call volumes related to housing remain elevated above normal times but have declined since an early May spike. 

A report suggests metro Lafayette will need tens of millions in rental assistance to forestall a wave of homelessness. The report by consulting firm Enterprise Community Partners, drawn from economic forecasts published by a UL economist, projects $54 million in aggregate need through the end of the year and $125 million through next July. The Enterprise report assumes high levels of sustained unemployment, roughly 41,000 people each month, through the middle of next year, a 20% drop in overall employment, which would lead the state.

Statewide the need tops $700 million in worst-case scenario projections. The staggering price tag has advocates calling for the state and municipalities to divert as much coronavirus relief funds as possible to housing assistance programs, which some communities have opted to do at varying levels. Lafayette is poised to use all $850,000 of an emergency allocation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on small business grants, a decision that drew fierce criticism from housing advocates. Louisiana has received millions in coronavirus HUD dollars, but advocates say it’s far from enough and are urging congressional lawmakers to lobby for more direct assistance to housing programs. Renters and advocates across the country watch nervously for evictions to resume.  (Stays on evictions are scheduled to end June 5, but the governor’s office indicated it may be extended to June 15, according to NOLA.com.)

“It’s overwhelming,” Rachal says of the scale of need. “The only way we can [match the need] is with federal and state dollars.”

‘This is different’ — A dispatch from Lafayette’s Rally Against Police Brutality

Sunday’s rally wasn’t the first time Lafayette resident protested police violence. The difference, organizers say, was its diversity and clarity of purpose.

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Yes, community spread of coronavirus is still active in Lafayette

While outbreaks at crawfish production facilities and nursing homes are the primary drivers of new cases in the Acadiana region, spontaneous community spread remains a risk.

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Housing and unemployment ‘a serious crisis, regardless’ as Lafayette commits all HUD coronavirus relief to small business grants

The decision previews potentially tragic choices to come as local and state governments dig their way out of a worsening economic fallout from the coronavirus: Governments have more problems than they can fix.

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Louisiana cities are doing what they can to both save small businesses and keep people in their homes

Strapped for cash, some Louisiana cities are working to balance the needs of businesses and housing in how they use federal coronavirus relief.

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Guillory proposes using HUD coronavirus relief for small business grant programs, not housing assistance

Housing advocates say the money is better used to help stabilize growing housing insecurity in the region. The proposal will go before the council next week for approval.

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Housing instability in Acadiana surges, just as local coronavirus curve begins to flatten

The gist: Confirming warning signs from earlier in the pandemic, more and more people are falling off the financial cliff and out of housing, many for the first time. Calls for sheltering help have climbed over the last month, according to data from 211, and moratoria on evictions and utility disconnections will soon end. 

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Almost 1,000 people in the region have called 211 for housing assistance since April 22. There are a marginal number of duplications among those call entries, according to 211, but the figure nevertheless represents a staggering increase in demand over the course of the last few weeks. On May 11, 232-HELP referred 103 people for housing assistance, the largest one-day total ever for the market. Overall, the volume of calls for some kind of housing assistance has overtaken the share of calls to 211 each day. In Lafayette Parish, 874 people have asked for housing-related help since the end of March. Figures ballooned week-to-week. 

“These are people who were close to the edge anyway,” says Leigh Rachal, the executive director of the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Housing and Homelessnes. In other words, this represents only the first wave of housing insecurity and doesn’t include Lafayette’s renters, many of whom will face resumed eviction actions in short order. Louisiana’s moratorium on evictions is set to end May 15, and protections for renters in federally backed or subsidized housing will end in July, assuming Congress doesn’t extend those provisions of the CARES Act. Lafayette City Court expects a high volume of eviction filings to come after its two months of closure ends, says Judge Doug Saloom, the court’s chief judge. The court has already received calls from landlords indicating an intention to file evictions.

“We’ve never been closed for two months, and we’ve never gone for two months when we were open without an eviction being filed,” Saloom says. 

Five thousand people are now far enough behind on their utility payments that LUS would normally schedule them for disconnection. Those people are not in immediate danger of losing their electricity and water,  however. LUS suspended disconnections and late fees for 60 days in mid-March and has committed to working on payment plans with customers to spread out the debts. Still, the figure is a sobering marker of a so-far obscured economic toll. While the pandemic’s curve flattens, many people are flat on their backs. 

“It’s not uncommon for us to see $800 utility bills,” says Kim Boudreaux, executive director of Catholic Charities of Acadiana. Catholic Charities runs the Share the Light program on LUS’s behalf; the program allocates money donated from LUS customers to families who need help paying the utility bills. The fund won’t be able to keep up with demand, she says, noting the monthly allocations reflect disbursements to the program that are months old. The money available now reflects pre-pandemic billings. 

Overall, housing advocates worry the worst is yet to come. Calls for housing assistance have supplanted calls for food, questions about the virus or federal business relief since the beginning of May. Catholic Charities’ Boudreaux says the organization normally receives about 20 referrals a week. (Catholic Charities is the largest shelter provider in the region.) Those calls have climbed to 60 a day. 

“It’s going to be a long road to recovery for a lot of people,” Boudreaux says.

Unemployment in Acadiana is around 19%. That’s above the projected national unemployment rate of 14.5% and well beyond the depths of the 2014 oil crash. Nonprofits have warned since the beginning that the pandemic would crest a wave of need at a time when resources to meet it are plummeting. Efforts to jumpstart the economy — either by reopening or by direct financial stimulus — are halting at best so far. An extended downturn, recession or even depression could be devastating as social safety net dollars available to nonprofits or governments shrink.

Take a (laundry) load off a Lafayette healthcare worker

Lafayette General Foundation is raising money to pay for laundry for hospital employees, giving a boost to a local startup

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