Fire hazard: Abandoned homes more dangerous during freeze

Local

LAFAYETTE, LA — When the temperature drops, complaints to Lafayette’s Housing Department begin to rise. Officials say the main reason is homeless individuals using abandoned houses to escape the elements.

In the past year (Nov. 2018-Oct. 2019), 55 condemned properties were demolished inside the Lafayette Consolidated Government’s jurisdiction.
Between 30-40 other homes are maintained by environmental services and run the risk of being taken over by squatters.

The Lafayette Fire Department and Lafayette housing inspector call each occurrence a fire hazard, especially when freezing temperatures take over.

“We want you out of the weather in a safe shelter, a welcoming environment,” Housing Director Jerry Brown shared outside Lafayette Salvation Army Shelter.

When temperatures go below 40 degrees the Salvation Army in Lafayette opens it’s doors to the homeless, but some are finding refuge elsewhere.

Randy Viator inspects houses for Lafayette’s Consolidated Government. He says, “We get a lot of complaints from the police and fire department about a lot of homeless individuals occupying vacant houses.”

Viator stated the problem comes from absentee owners who leave homes empty and unprotected, “We request that they board it up, but if certain individuals really want to get in, we’ve seen them crawl underneath the house and break through the floor to get inside the house to stay warm. It’s amazing what people will do to get out of the weather whenever it gets cold like this.”

Whether the house is recently abandoned or desolate for years, each has no utilities, meaning those who squat inside put themselves at great risk.

Brown explained, “Typically on nights like tonight, someone will try to start a fire just to stay warm. Unfortunately, they may be intoxicated or otherwise incapacitated and that fire could easily get out of hand, and it may not only take your life but several lives.”

Viator said fires can start in the bathtub quickly become out of control.

Jerry Brown calls The Salvation Army his calling. He’s seen the reality of the situation on both sides of Sixth Street. The shelter stands opposite a place Brown, Viator, and Lafayette’s Fire Department spokesman Alton Trahan fear will one day burn down.

One man Brown met through the shelter first thought he’d find warmth in jail by throwing a brick through a patrol car windshield. An officer intervened before the mistake and connect the man with the shelter where its programs turned his life around, and he now uses his CDL license as a truck driver.

Regrettably, another friend who used the shelter for years, Brown found dead in an alley behind an abandoned house nearby.

“We reached out,” Brown said. “We tried to give him a hand up, but some people are addicted to the streets”.

Lafayette District 3 Councilman Pat Lewis said he relies on his constituents to report people intruding into abandoned homes.
He said the council doesn’t have the resources to search each house, but once people report a problem, then he will react, get homes boarded up, and if necessary tear them down.

Homeless shelters in the Acadiana area rely on donations to provide warm clothes, blankets, and shelter to those in need.
You can give to the causes of The Salvation Army of Lafayette here.

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