LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — As temperatures dip across the area, local shelters are expecting the biggest stress on their capacity since the pandemic began.
The Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness (ARCH) is asking for the community’s help so that everyone has a warm place to stay as Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Josh Guillory has declared a state of emergency ahead of the expected winter weather event.
Freeze shelters open in Acadiana when the temperature reaches 36°F or 40°F while raining, but there is not nearly as much room as last winter. ARCH says the number of people experiencing homelessness is growing, but capacity is reduced.
“This is by far the coldest it’s been, and certainly we’re expecting to identify the largest crowd so far this year,” admitted ARCH Executive Director Leigh Rachal.
The non-profit is expecting 300 people across the eight parish region to need an escape from the cold. Many of the families who’ve suffered a sudden expense, loss of income, or hurricane disaster have not been able to use a shelter like before the pandemic.
Rachal explained, “Pre-COVID any traditional shelters on freeze nights could just sort of open their doors and make floor space available. We could put as many people as could kind of into a space inside overnight when we needed to for the freezes, but with COVID protocols in place, it’s not safe.”
Since it’s unsafe to have so many people in one grouped area, ARCH Executive Director Leigh Rachal explained her non-profit is having to use hotels and motels to provide the separation the pandemic requires.
“This is our community, and just like when we have other disasters, hurricanes and such, and we just neighbor helping neighbor pull it together and get it done. That’s what Acadiana does really well This is another opportunity to show our neighbors how much we care about them,” said Rachal.
ARCH can’t help our neighbors alone. They are trying to raise $50,000 for their freeze fund so no one is left outside. Freezing nights are expected for a full week, and thanks to a reduced rate from partnering hotels, $25 donated can put one person in a warm place for the night.
According to the non-profit, homelessness has across Acadiana’s eight parishes has doubled since the beginning of last year to about 800 people now who have no place to call their own.
You can donate to the freezing fund here. If you can’t provide money, ARCH also has a way for you to donate unwanted furniture, dishes, towels, etc. so you can help someone transitioning back into a stable home. You can do so at their location at 211 Guilbeau Road.