A recent survey of Baton Rouge's homeless population found that around 80% are suffering from some form of mental illness or drug addiction — with more than half saying they're "too scared" or "struggling" to get into detox, according to Dr. Pamela Ravare-Jones, who heads up homelessness initiatives at City Hall.
To better understand the issues facing individuals experiencing homelessness, the city-parish — partnering with local nonprofits — canvassed downtown and other homelessness hotspots along Interstate 10 from October through December.
Jones said that surveys confirmed what they already knew: the services of local nonprofits are greatly needed in order to eradicate homelessness and find permanent, stable shelter for the unhoused. She added that the Mayor's Homeless Prevention Coalition, which kicked off in July, has helped to break down the silos between those providers.
The city-parish recently put up signs at interchanges along I-10 urging motorists against giving money to panhandlers and instead "help the needy" by donating to local charities, warning that "your generosity could lead to a fatality."
The coronavirus pandemic has delayed annual headcounts on the size of the homeless population in Baton Rouge, but Jones said the unprecedented health crisis, paired with recent natural disasters, increasing rates drug use and domestic violence, have all compounded to make the problem of homelessness worse.
"We're treating this with a heart of compassion but also with a seriousness for what it means to the community," Jones said.