It’s been a mostly mild winter this yuletide season, a blessing to all of us.
But for Louisiana’s homeless population, the moderate temperatures have also been a welcome aid to survival.
Louisiana has more than 3,000 homeless citizens. That’s what last January’s annual “point-in-time’’ count of homeless Louisianians determined. In greater Lafayette, 360 people are homeless; in New Orleans, almost 1,200; in greater Baton Rouge, 353.
The Christmas season holds pluses and minuses for those without shelter. People are more generous during the holidays to the poor, who are with us no matter the page of the calendar. The living nativity at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Lafayette this month was aimed specifically toward generating support for the homeless. The Rev. Chester Arceneaux, pastor, suggested the Holy Family itself might have been considered homeless as Joseph and Mary cuddled their newborn child to sleep in meager, temporary surroundings. Consider that your motivation to be charitable.
More distressing for the homeless, though, is that looming winter cold poses just one more challenge to people whose existence is threatened every day. In Acadiana parishes around Lafayette, to cite one example, there are about half as many beds as there are homeless people. The rest go … somewhere.
The good news is that the number of Louisiana homeless has declined over the decade. Those who remain include short-term cases — people bedeviled by an unexpected debt or awaiting a new income stream — and tougher cases, including people with mental health problems.
Mayor-President Sharon Broome knows that in Baton Rouge. Her government is weighing initiatives with the state for tending to the 175 homeless people in that city, where needs run the gamut.
In New Orleans, where homelessness has declined for a decade, there’s been an uptick in 2019. Both government and private resources are being sought.
Two years back, Catholic Charities of Acadiana opted to go an extra mile for the homeless. The staff opens up the “low-barrier” shelter every night, not just during bad weather. They move aside furniture to make room so that everyone can seek respite from the night. That extra effort has forced them to dip into reserves. But the homeless benefit.
Each community must make its own good-faith efforts. The homeless are ever-present, so generous people must be vigilant. Do less, and we fail not only the homeless, but ourselves.