Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness and Housing (ARCH)’s mission is to ensure that everyone in Acadiana has access to safe, affordable, stable housing and that all episodes of homelessness are rare, brief, and non-recurring. ARCH is the HUD-designated Continuum of Care lead agency for Acadiana, and the ARCH coalition is comprised of over three dozen member agencies working together to prioritize permanent housing, share data collection and management, offer quality assurance, and ideate and implement strategies to realize ARCH’s mission.
The new anti-panhandling signs that have recently been placed throughout Lafayette are very concerning. People in Acadiana are in need. Our neighbors are struggling. Since January of 2020, we have seen, conservatively, an 82% increase in homelessness, while concurrently, a dramatic decrease in available shelter beds due to concerns for community spread of COVID-19. In October, an ARCH street survey showed that of those experiencing homelessness, 61% reported having to occasionally or often panhandle. Panhandling is usually an activity engaged in as a last option to meet basic human needs of food and shelter. Only one person surveyed reported to be from outside Acadiana. 67% of the survey participants reported COVID-19 and/or loss or reduction of employment income to be the cause of their homelessness. Louisiana has recovered only half the jobs lost during the pandemic so far, and pre-pandemic, 77% of Louisianians had only one month or less of expenses in savings (AP News, Louisiana in the Age of COVID). 33.6% of Louisianians are living in households not current on rent or mortgage where eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either very likely or somewhat likely (Household Pulse Survey Census).
We share this information in order to combat the harmful narratives that most panhandlers are swindlers, make more money than those who are employed, or are from out of town. This simply is not true.
When February brought freezing temperatures to our area, the need for shelter was even greater than anticipated. ARCH, in cooperation with partner agencies, and with the financial support of hundreds of generous community members, was able to provide temporary shelter to nearly 600 households who were literally homeless, housing insecure, or whose housing was simply inadequate to keep people safe from freezing temperatures.
But resources are scarce in comparison to the growing needs. And while 232-HELP/211 is a valued partner and able to provide information for resources that are available within a community, the sad fact is that there are not currently enough resources to help everyone in need.
Signage does not prevent panhandling. Laws and ordinances do not prevent panhandling. What prevents panhandling is a community comprised of social service organizations, government entities, philanthropic organizations, and individuals working collectively to meet the needs of ALL of its citizens. Investing in strategies that work to prevent and end homelessness is the smart use of taxpayer money and should be the strategy of choice.Those who are interested in being part of the solution and offering a helping hand to their neighbors in need may do so in any of the following ways:
Give financially: Sometimes this may mean giving directly to those in need. Other times it is best to give to a reputable nonprofit whose efforts you support. Each person should choose the manner of giving that is right for them.
•Invest your time: Attend ARCH monthly public meetings (4th Thursdays at noon via Zoom). Join ARCH Lives on Facebook (2nd Wednesdays at 6pm). Volunteer with a nonprofit or faith-based group that is doing good work. Plug in and participate in finding community solutions.
•Use your voice: Ask elected officials at the local, state, and national levels to provide resources to meet the basic needs of every citizen. Charities, and faith-based organizations cannot bear the burden of meeting the basic needs for food and shelter within a community. Individual donations are simply not ever going to be an adequate response to problems as complex and multi-faceted as housing instability and food insecurity. We must set policies and allocate funding to solutions.
Nearly every faith, every culture, every philosophy teaches us the importance of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We teach our children to be helpers, to sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria. This is our opportunity, our moment, to lead by example.Leigh RachalExecutive Director, ARCH