Here’s how to help out with Hurricane Laura from Lafayette

If you want to pitch in but have limited time or resources, here’s a list of local organizations where you can donate supplies, money or volunteer to help our friends who were impacted by the devastating storm.

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Demanding more transparency, Trayford Pellerin’s family releases independent autopsy challenging details of official story

The gist: After police shot 10 bullets into Trayford Pellerin, they handcuffed him, claims the attorney representing Pellerin’s family. Citing an independent autopsy, the attorney challenges the official account of the events leading up to Pellerin’s killing and continues to call for authorities to release body cam footage and other documentary evidence that could clarify what happened.

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Trayford Pellerin’s family will meet with Guillory Friday

The gist: Mayor-President Josh Guillory, who waited days to express condolences to the family of the 31-year-old Black man killed in a spray of gunfire by Lafayette police officers on Aug. 21, will meet with the family Friday. 

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Lafayette will put up more to help renters, shifting $100,000 from business relief

The gist: After months of resisting calls to do more to keep vulnerable families housed, the Guillory administration will carve out a small portion of coronavirus relief money for rent and utility assistance. LCG committed Tuesday to shift $100,000 out of emergency funds currently dedicated to its business relief program and repurpose another $300,000 in regular housing program money to rent relief. 

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Most of the money LCG put toward emergency rent assistance has come from shuffling around housing dollars it already manages. The $100,000 reallocation will be cut from the $850,000 federal coronavirus relief grant the Guillory administration and LEDA used to set up, over the objections of housing advocates, the Lafayette Business Recovery Program, which has come up short of its initial promise to help hundreds of small businesses. Another $300,000 would be allocated to rent and utility assistance from the Community Development Department’s regular housing program budget. 

“It’s been difficult to get the funding to these businesses,” Community Development Director Hollis Conway told council members Tuesday night, reiterating that his staff is overtasked in administering the program.

Altogether, LCG has committed $660,000 to direct housing support, including $260,000 the administration offered up as a compromise to housing advocates earlier this year. Leigh Rachal, who heads the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, says that money is only just now hitting the street, and it’s moving quickly.

Lafayette’s business grant program has struggled to get money into the hands of the businesses it was sold to help. Called the Lafayette Business Recovery Program, it combined the $850,000 in coronavirus relief funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $200,000 matching grant from LEDA, which has managed the public-facing portal for applications. Approximately 1,000 businesses applied. 

To date, 33 businesses have been approved for funding. Sixteen businesses qualified for the more restrictive HUD reimbursements managed by LCG, accounting for $119,000 in grants. Another 17 businesses were funded by LEDA’s funding pool, not burdened by federal red tape, totalling $118,000. Three more applications are pending approval for LEDA funds. Conway said another dozen or so applicants are in the pipeline on the LCG side. It has more than $600,000 remaining to spend. 

Regulatory snags have slowed the program. Faced with onerous documentation requirements, the vast majority of applicants have washed out of the multi-tiered process. As of mid-August, the program had moved just $26,000 of the federal award. LEDA CEO Gregg Gothreaux forged ahead to quickly disburse the portion put up by his agency. LEDA’s dollars do not come up with the thorny restrictions that complicate the HUD-funded reimbursements. 

In the end, many businesses will get the help they need to continue operations through the BRP,” Gothreaux said in a statement announcing the latest awards this week. “We won’t have enough funds to help everyone, but we want to assist as many businesses as we can that were forced to close or limit operations due to government orders.”

Council members are pressing the administration to get things moving. City Councilwoman Nanette Cook and Parish Councilman Kevin Naquin both pushed for Conway to get the $100,000 out as soon as possible, angling for an emergency meeting if necessary.

“It failed to get the money out quickly; meanwhile, we’ve got people losing their homes,” Naquin told Conway. 

HUD added more flexibility to the relief funds. But it’s unclear that substantially more businesses will benefit. Under new guidance issued in early August, up to 30% of the award can be spent to benefit workers earning above low to moderate incomes, and businesses that received other federal help can now qualify. A key selling point pushed hard by Mayor-President Josh Guillory, Gothreaux and others was the program would target businesses who had nowhere else to go. HUD’s updated guidance also set a long deadline to spend the money, giving LCG three years to spend at least 80% of its award and six years to spend all of it.

From the jump, housing advocates argued the HUD funds were better used for housing, given added flexibility included in the block grant program, a creature of the CARES Act, intended to get money into renters’ hands and avoid widespread homelessness. A wave of evictions, feared for months by housing advocates in the wake of rising unemployment, has yet to materialize. And this week, the federal government issued a sweeping moratorium on evictions through the end of the year. How that order works in practice is still unclear, and advocates call it a stay of execution — not a solution — on rising housing instability nationally. 

“We haven’t seen the evictions, but we have seen people call for assistance. People are really struggling to make ends meet,” says Rachal.

COLUMN: The troubling economics of fixing the Buchanan garage

The Buchanan garage is a dilapidated property on prime real estate Downtown that’s been condemned because of government neglect. While it’d be great to get it back into commerce, the economics of Mayor-President Guillory’s plan don’t add up and they risk the financial health of the courthouse and the jail.

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Guillory’s hole grows deeper with fallout over Hurricane Laura shelters

The gist: In a knee-jerk response to the sight of armed protestors, Lafayette officials stopped ad hoc plans to stand up shelters for Hurricane Laura evacuees with local churches. The decision went viral Saturday when an email to local disaster relief organizations leaked, drawing wide rebuke from critics inside and outside Lafayette. Many read it as a callous denial of help for those most in need — one the administration attempted to justify by citing, without evidence, a material threat to public safety. 

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Get caught up, quickly: Hurricane Laura shattered large parts of Calcasieu and Cameron parishes and scattered thousands across Louisiana, mostly in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Evacuees have been housed in hotels paid for by the state, in a bid to avoid creating new Covid-19 hotspots out of mass shelters. As hurricanes barreled toward Louisiana, protests erupted in Lafayette when police killed a Black man in North Lafayette. Castigating Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s response, activists have demanded his resignation, openly calling the first-term mayor a racist in light of his policies and his cold and fumbling response to the death of Trayford Pellerin. 

CAO Cydra Wingerter asked disaster groups not to set up shelter in Lafayette. In an email that spread quickly on social media and caught the attention of the national press, Wingerter ties the decision to intensifying protests over Pellerin’s death. Armed men circled a demonstration Saturday, without incident, and both government and protest organizers say activists from outside are on the ground, though there has been no evidence of violence associated with them. 

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore led Katrina evacuations in 2005

“This is a serious threat and we must handle this issue before we can care for our neighbors. It goes against what we believe and how we usually respond after a disaster but it would be irresponsible to potentially put others in harm’s way,” Wingerter writes. But her remarks contrast with assurances from Sheriff Mark Garber and others that the situation on the ground is under control. 

To be clear, there are no plans for mass shelters for Laura evacuees in the Lafayette area. South of I-10, Lafayette is too close to the blast zone of the Gulf Coast to safely stand up shelter for families fleeing major disasters like Hurricane Laura, says Melinda Taylor, who chairs Acadiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. Mass shelters are planned further north, to avoid compounding catastrophes in the event a hurricane hits while Lafayette shelters thousands. 

“Really, the email was tilting at windmills,” Taylor says. AVOAD has focused its energies on coordinating direct aid like food, medicine and medical care, working to establish a virtual resource center and get storm victims signed up for FEMA assistance. Any mass sheltering plans — the sort that Lafayette set up to receive evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — would be coordinated by Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services or the American Red Cross. “AVOAD doesn’t set up shelter operations in the immediate aftermath of a disaster,” Taylor says. 

The plans Wingerter alluded to involved shelters planned with local churches. Responding to pressure from Rep. Clay Higgins, LCG coordinated with several pastors to figure out if local shelters could be stood up quickly in Lafayette. In an email thread, Higgins dismisses the state’s official response as out-of-reach for most poor families and chided the safety considerations made in light of the still active pandemic. 

“The shelters listed here are pretty much beyond the reach of most Louisiana poor folk. The ones most at risk from a [Category 4 hurricane]. To hell with COVID19. Nobody cares about COVID19 when your singlewide is getting flipped by a storm,” Higgins writes. 

Guillory’s spokesman, Jamie Angelle, says plans hadn’t gotten much further than that. In a back and forth with Higgins and his representatives, Chief Minority Officer Carlos Harvin, himself the focus of intense rage among many Black leaders, reports that efforts to coordinate with local churches isn’t getting very far, given logistical challenges. “Wish I had better news,” he writes. Wingerter’s leaked message follows. 

Intended or not, Wingerter’s message reinforced a growing view among critics that Guillory is hard-hearted, incompetent and even racist. Critics across the state have raked Guillory over his handling of the Pellerin shooting, the pandemic and his canyon-wide rift with Lafayette’s Black community. Many drew immediate contrast to the safe harbor Lafayette offered Katrina and Rita evacuees. Denying shelter was seen as another assault on people of color, the most likely population to be a position to need immediate refuge.

“We in no way shape or form have denied any assistance,” Angelle tells The Current. “We’ve granted every request” from neighboring parishes for mutual aid services and more. 

The missteps are compounding already fraught tensions on the ground in Lafayette over the Pellerin shooting. Protests have picked up steam since Hurricane Laura passed through. Black leaders were enraged by Guillory’s first response to Pellerin’s shooting, in which he failed to extend condolences to Pellerin’s family and rushed to back police. Guillory later apologized, after speaking with Black pastors, and offered his sympathies.

Officials have postured chest-thumping strength toward growing unrest. Guillory has twice convened press conferences with law enforcement officials, promising to stand their ground against outside forces. Angelle points to traffic disruption, a break-in at a discount closing store and some small fires set in the Evangeline Thruway median as evidence concern is warranted. The sight of armed men on site at protests “rattled nerves,” he says, “and rightfully so.” 

“We welcome people that stand in solidarity,” local activist Jamal Taylor says. “You can’t say a black person with a gun is an issue. It’s ridiculous.” 

Activists have accused the administration of overreacting to stir up fear among the city’s mostly white, conservative families. A woman barbecuing in protest in front of Guillory’s south Lafayette home was arrested and booked. Police showed up in force to a fake “Antifa” event promoted by a satire site at the Acadiana Mall, the second such reaction this summer. Before the weekend, Guillory signed an executive order prohibiting gathering and loitering Downtown, which protestors immediately read as an attempt to shut down dissent and others have called an attempt to criminalize homelessness. That order, a rehash of an ordinance drafted by Guillory’s legal department, was in effect as demonstrators gathered around the Mouton statue, ringed by men armed with military-style rifles, which authorities did not break up. Guillory is in a deep hole with the Black community. And, in his responses thus far, he seems to only be digging deeper into it.

Council Preview 9/1: Higher taxes, fighting for city autonomy, millions in new spending, new restrictions on citizens

The gist: Tax increases, budget battles, new restrictions on citizens, short-term rentals, millions of dollars being spent on parish parks and the Buchanan garage are just some of what the councils will work through at tomorrow night’s meetings. All of this is set against a backdrop of rapidly deteriorating race relations and an increasingly embattled mayor-president.

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A bruised Lafayette well-positioned to help its western neighbors

The gist:  While Louisiana was spared some of the worst-case flooding that models had predicted, parts of Calcasieu and Cameron parishes are reeling from the impact of Hurricane Laura. Acadiana, while bruised in some areas, is for the most part positioned to help its western neighbors get back on their feet. 

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First the pandemic, then protests and now Laura

The gist: An impending Gulf storm reminiscent of Hurricane Rita in 2005 and scattered demonstrations are splitting public attention since Lafayette police killed a 31-year-old Black man last week. Protestors are working to keep attention on their outrage, while residents reeling from the pandemic and fatigued by years of flooding turn to face another storm.

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LETTER: Standing up to Lafayette’s quiet racism

Over the last three decades, I have brought artists of color to the stage of the Heymann Center and out into our community. I am always asked by these talented people about racism and race relations here.

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Marco and Laura won’t deter Lafayette protestors

The gist: Activists with the local NAACP staged a sit-in at City hall Monday, two days ahead of Tropical Storm Laura’s expected landfall as a hurricane. Jamal Taylor, 33, one of the NAACP organizers, has promised more action in days to come both on the ground and over Zoom, as part of an ongoing effort to demand answers about the […]

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COLUMN: Lafayette’s top 10 unresolved budget issues

LCG’s budgetmaking process can be complicated in a normal year, and this is far from a normal year. Newly split councils, a mayor-president deadset on slashing budgets, and an uncertain economy has created a perfect storm for a tense budgetmaking process. As the councils round the corner on amending this budget, these are some of the top issues still to be resolved.

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