Individuals wait outside the Salvation Army's Men's Shelter on 6th Street for a meal to be served Saturday, April 4, 2020 in Lafayette, LA.

More federal and state money should be dedicated to helping avoid a homeless crisis in Acadiana and throughout Louisiana, two housing advocates say.

The number of families that will be forced out of their homes due to job losses or other factors related to COVID-19 has risen and is expected to spike once moratoriums are lifted filing evictions, Catholic Charities director Kim Boudreaux and ARCH director Leigh Rachal said Friday during Downtown Lafayette's Downtown Coffee Talk Friday.

The solution is to identify more sources of funding to help people retain their housing and help landlords assist tenants from being homeless. 

Data from the Louisiana Association of Affordable Housing Providers and Housing Louisiana shows nearly $55 million is needed to address rental assistance needs in Acadiana this year and another $125 million for next year, data shows.

“As an organization whose primary mission is around housing and homelessness, this keeps me up at night,” said Boudreaux, whose agency offers assistance to families in danger of being evicted or having utilities disconnected.

“How do we speak loud enough to our elected officials in D.C. and Baton Rouge and Lafayette that this is a problem? You’re not seeing it today, but as soon as those hotel programs end – and very soon, because they’re expensive – I’m saying we will have children on the streets of downtown Lafayette that are unsheltered and homeless.”

According to data from ARCH, 450 people have become homeless since March, a 58% increase and a 193% increase in family homelessness. Some have moved into hotels, which are offering specials for extended stays.

The homelessness issue, they noted, grew when the Salvation Army closed its shelter earlier this month, dropping the number of homeless shelter beds by 69. Other numbers indicate how big the issue could become: 80,000 have filed for unemployment since March, and 5,000 households are now at least 60 days behind on their LUS electric bills.

“Rent assistance is the primary way to prevent this disaster,” Rachal said. “And identifying sources of funding that can be used for rental assistance has been a challenge of late. There’s a lot of money coming from the federal government. Some of it says it’s possible to be used for rental assistance, but by the time it gets down to the local community, that’s not what it’s used for.”

The Lafayette City and Parish councils backed recently OK’d a proposal by Mayor-President Josh Guillory to distribute $825,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to local businesses, despite pleas from Boudreaux and others to use some of it for rent and utility assistance.

Landlords, Boudreaux said Friday, are small business owners. And for landlords, keeping tenants in their homes makes more sense economically than filing an eviction or trying to find a new tenant.

“We’re creating housing stability for our landlords that are small business owners,” she said. “We can’t change what happened, but those that are in their house, we need to keep them in the house. It’s so much more affordable. It’s less traumatic, especially when you have children in the house. We want to make sure the landlords get the help they need to keep their tenants in their housing.”

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