Every other Wednesday, our directors and staff meet to discuss the needs and potential solutions for the people we are working with to find permanent housing. They review each person’s unique situation:
- Do they have any medical conditions we need to be aware of?
- How long have they been homeless?
- Have they been responsive to our help?
- Are they eligible for mainstream benefits that could help obtain housing faster?
- Do they have mental health concerns being addressed?
- Are they overcoming legal issues?
During these meetings, our staff identified a specific challenge in our work when assisting individuals currently in jail - how can we help individuals re-enter the community from institutionalization without becoming homeless?
Some of the people we work with are arrested for minor infractions such as “remaining after forbidden,” resulting in a collapse of our efforts to safely and stably house them. We then have to restart the entire re-housing process upon the person’s release. These minor infractions can also quickly become elevated to bench warrants because individuals may not be not aware of their court date due to the fact that they do not have a phone number or address to receive the communication.
One individual, who suffers from severe mental illness and is disabled, was recently incarcerated for a minor offense. We knew that if he were to remain in jail for longer than 90 days, he would lose his disability income, which would prolong his experience of homelessness, likely exacerbate his mental condition, and be costly to taxpayers.
Seeking a solution to overcome this challenge, our staff began forming a relationship with the re-entry transitional coordinators from the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. These coordinators are tasked with helping individuals transition from incarceration into “free” life. Through the partnership, we developed a Release of Information that gave our staff permission to speak with jail staff about the housing and other critical needs of the people we work with. Because of this partnership, we were able to advocate for a quick court ruling and a shorter sentence for the above-mentioned client, so that he could be released directly into permanent supportive housing. We were also able to share important information regarding his health needs, and then request the mental health treatment he required to be stabilized before his release.
Another individual, also arrested on a minor offense, was to be sentenced 120 days in jail, but due to our communications with jail staff, he was instead sentenced to 120 days in a work-release program, allowing for successful re-entry with gainful employment. With dependable income, his likelihood of moving directly into housing upon release is much greater, and we are working with jail staff to make sure that happens.
The criminal justice system in many cities serves as a place of treatment for those with mental health and substance abuse issues, especially those experiencing homelessness. Emergency shelters provide temporary relief for those living on the streets. These systems should not be seen as long term solutions as they are the most expensive and least effective methods to overcome the many challenges individuals experiencing homelessness face. They do not provide the long term solution that permanent supportive housing placement does - ending the experience of homelessness for the individual. “Criminalization of homelessness is counterproductive and expensive to tax payers. Instead of offering a solution, it creates barriers to housing,” says Kimberly Boudreaux, Catholic Services of Acadiana Executive Director.
Here in Acadiana, like across the country, economic factors are the main cause of homelessness - namely lack of employment opportunities that pay a living wage and access to affordable housing. Complexities, such as mental health concerns, substance abuse, or addiction, require us to have a multi-faceted response. Local social service organizations like Catholic Services of Acadiana and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office are working together to respond effectively, efficiently, and affordably to these social issues by enacting nationally recognized, evidence based solutions.
Together, we are envisioning a better Acadiana where everyone has a safe place to sleep at night, enough food to eat, and access to develop their resources, to the best of their ability. Earlier this summer Catholic Services of Acadiana Executive Director, Kim Boudreaux and Director of Operations, Eric Gammons, led a presentation and discussion about our continued partnership with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office and our collaborative efforts in ending homelessness. For those of you who were unable to attend, the slides from our presentation are available here.
We hope to provide more opportunities for the public to be informed about homelessness in Acadiana. The community is always invited to schedule a tour of our programs to learn more about how our services and programs are changing and enriching the lives of individuals and families in crisis.