Hurricanes and pandemic leave people displaced; rise in first-time homelessness in Alexandria

There are anywhere between 85 to 100 homeless people in Alexandria on any given day.
Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 1:07 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 26, 2021 at 6:38 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - There are anywhere between 85 to 100 homeless people in Alexandria on any given day, and, unfortunately, that number is growing.

These are people you pass by every day. On the street corners, sleeping on sidewalks, or tucked away in tents, homeless people are often in plain sight.

“I would say that for given the size of our city, we have a pretty large homeless community,” said Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition Executive Director, Joseph Buzzetta.

Unfortunately, the problem is only getting worse.

“We’re seeing some people who were displaced by the hurricanes. We’re seeing a couple of people who have been impacted by COVID as well,” said Buzzetta.

We’re also starting to see an increase in the number of people who are homeless for the first time.

“We’re going to see a lot more people who are going to be in need short-term, as opposed to our general population that usually requires a lot more in-depth therapy and in-depth case management in order to get them stably housed,” said Buzzetta.

However, Buzzetta said the homeless coalition isn’t necessarily set up for people needing one-time assistance.

“The way that our system is set up right now, it really is catered more towards people who have experienced long-term homelessness,” said Buzzetta.

Because the CLHC is funded by Housing and Urban Development, each individual is scored and placed on a priority list. Those that are the most in need are served first.

“A lot of people who’ve been recently displaced by storms, it’s one of those things they qualify for our programs but just given the nature of how many people are on our waiting list, we really do try to refer them out to other agencies and other resources that can fill that need quicker,” said Buzzetta.

And while the overall number of homeless individuals in Alexandria has been decreasing, Buzzetta says there could be an increase of 25 to 50 percent as a result of the pandemic. That means an additional 60 people in Alexandria could be coming into a system that’s already at capacity.

To handle the influx of people, CLHC is applying for grants and asking for community partnerships, like the Salvation Army, which’s used to seeing dozens of homeless people every day.

“We see approximately 30 to 50 people every morning for breakfast and for dinner,” said Alexandria Salvation Army Corps Officer, Major Tim Williford.

Following the hurricane, the Salvation Army gave out hotel vouchers to displaced individuals, held mass feedings, and partnered with other non-profits when possible. Williford says his biggest concern is the number of homeless people that are going undetected.

“There is another whole class of homeless people that have lost their home and so they’re staying with their sister, or they’re sleeping at their mother’s house,” said Williford.

Both Buzzetta and Williford agree it’ll take a village to get the homeless back on their feet.

“At the end of the day, there are so many issues that contribute to homelessness that we really have to have a community approach to it,” said Buzzetta.

With the help of community partners, agencies and other organizations, the homeless coalition and the Salvation Army will be able to get more individuals off the streets and into stable housing.

“They need basically a community to wrap around them that way once they do get into housing, they can lean on other people to help keep them stably housed, and form those healthy relationships,” said Buzzetta.

Buzzetta said there has been an increase in panhandling and visible homelessness.

Although the number of homeless people in Alexandria is at 120, Buzzetta said he knows there are more people in additional parishes that need help. He’s trying to form more partnerships in these communities to provide additional outreach.

The homeless coalition serves eight parishes, including Rapides, Grant, Vernon and Avoyelles.

The Salvation Army serves six Cenla parishes which include Grant, Natchitoches, Avoyelles, Vernon, Rapides and Winn.

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