Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Acadiana, Lafayette has experienced a 60 percent increase in homelessness.
Leigh Rachal, Executive Director of the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness and Housing (ARCH), said that's coupled with a 69 percent decrease in available shelter beds - also brought about by the pandemic.
That's a "double whammy" that is not unique to Louisiana, she said.
"We really are facing a nationwide housing crisis," she said.
The numbers in Acadiana are only going to get worse, since the Louisiana moratorium on evictions expired on June 15 and the federal moratorium expires next week. One study, Rachal said, estimated it would cost upwards of $50 million to provide rent assistance to the Acadiana people who need it.
Many, many families at all income levels are living in homes they can't afford, and spend such a high percentage of their income on housing that they haven't been able to save enough to create a cushion against the economic crises that have come with the pandemic, she explains.
"There are such incredible numbers of people who need assistance," she said. And, there is very little assistance available.
Some agencies can offer limited rent assistance, or help paying utility bills, and there are several fundraisers that have begun, she said.
"But we can't fundraise our way out of this housing crisis," she said. "We need to go to our local, state and federal elected officials and advocate for dollars to help our neighbors."
The state is funding a temporary program that helps homeless families live in hotels. About 450 people in Acadiana are living in a hotel because they lost their homes. Another 150 are living in shelters, she estimates.
"Anybody who is able to, make some calls, send some emails, we really need some support," she said.
The next stimulus bill is still under consideration in Washington; we need to make sure there are funds for housing in that bill, Rachal said.
The problem seems overwhelming, but Acadiana has weathered devastating hurricanes and crippling floods, Rachal points out.
"Even pre-covid, I used to say if even one child experiences homeless in Acadiana it's too many because this is Acadiana, and what we do is take care of each other, and we pull together to do things that seem impossible," she said. "I know this is a new challenge for us, but i believe it is not an impossible challenge for us. We can raise our voices and advocate for the dollars and work to make systems that work better for our neighbors and make sure that every family in Acadiana has access to safe, affordable housing. We can do it."