Email to non-profits from LCG’s CAO about Laura evacuee shelters causes friction

Cydra Wingerter (Scott Clause / Daily Advertiser)

Cydra Wingerter (Scott Clause / Daily Advertiser)

LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — An email from Lafayette Consolidated Government’s chief administrative officer (CAO) led to a perception that Lafayette would not be open to sheltering evacuees from Hurricane Laura, and the city-parish spent part of the afternoon clarifying those remarks.

As reported by our media partners at The Daily Advertiser, CAO Cydra Wingerter sent an email out to local non-profits “urging nonprofits not to offer shelter because of ‘a serious threat’ perceived from recent protests over the police killing of Trayford Pellerin.”

Pellerin, 31, was killed by Lafayette Police officers during an altercation at a convenience store on Aug. 21. His death has set off a number of protests and rallies across the Hub City in the week since.

At issue is the city’s inability to host a traditional, congregant shelter, such as the Cajundome did after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Because of COVID-19, neither the state nor the feds are opening such shelters because they make it difficult for evacuees to follow coronavirus mitigation procedures. Wingerter and Chief of Minority Affairs Carlos Harvin had been in touch with non-profits to possibly help with sheltering evacuees in lieu of a congregant shelter.

Specifically, in her email, Wingerter called on non-profits to “pause” their efforts in sheltering evacuees due to the alleged presence of out-of-town protestors who could use — or misuse — the sheltering situation to their advantage.

The Daily Advertiser noted that while demonstrators have been coming from outside Acadiana to help bolster protests, there is no evidence proving such.

“Those arrested so far all have been from the region,” they reported.

“I personally witnessed pedestrians walking in and along Johnston Street carrying semi-automatic weapons and wearing bullet-proof vests. I was concerned. Many people were concerned,” Wingerter said.

Wingerter’s email drew national attention, criticism on social media, and a rebuke from Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk, who called it “heartless, selfish and certainly the most un-Christian thing I have ever seen … In a time when so many of our neighbors in the path of Hurricane Laura have lost everything and need our help, Josh Guillory turned his back on them.”

LCG defended Wingerter, stating: “Lafayette has been providing support to our neighboring parishes since before Hurricane Laura made landfall and will continue to support recovery efforts in any and all ways possible. Hundreds of families are currently being housed in parish hotels and as more rooms become available, we are working with the state to ensure all evacuees are properly served and cared for.”

LCG also noted that the pastors spoken to were aware of the situation and were hesitant to provide shelters because of the “unrest and uncertainty.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards was asked about the situation during his press briefing earlier today, and he further explained that not only could Lafayette not open a congregant shelter, they were also out of hotel rooms. He specifically referred to Lafayette as “not a candidate” for sheltering because its hotel rooms were all occupied. Edwards did, however, decline to speak to the email or to any comments regarding it.

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