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Great Health Divide: Health impacts of homelessness and inadequate housing, 100K+ Louisianians at risk of eviction

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 9:28 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, health officials urged people to shelter in place, stay home, wear face coverings and stay home, all to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, individuals experiencing homelessness were unable to shelter in place.

“Housing is an important part of somebody’s healthcare,” said Joseph Buzzetta, Executive Director of the Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition. “In general, whenever you’re sick, you want to be in your own bed. It’s a lot easier to recover and feel better if you’re in your own space, your own place.”

Buzzetta said that homelessness in Central Louisiana is declining. In fact, he said rates are trending downward statewide. But, in this region, the homeless population experiences negative health outcomes.

“Diabetes is a common trend throughout a lot of our homeless community. Part of that is because when you think about the meals that you can access on a low income, it’s a lot of fast food, a lot of meals that are prepped or high starch. They’re filling, but they are loaded with a lot of carbs,” he said.

Also, accessing healthcare is a unique challenge. In addition to transportation barriers, some medical services are unavailable to this population.

“Something as simple as getting medications delivered to you. Managing medications requires housing, which requires a secure space. So, what we see consistently is that you take individuals that are homeless and individuals that are housed, the individuals that are housed always had better health outcomes,” he said.

Buzzetta and state housing advocates fear homelessness growing worse statewide.

The Biden administration extended the nationwide ban on evictions for a month to help millions of tenants across the country unable to make rent payments.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extended the evictions moratorium from June 30 until July 31. The CDC said this will be the final extension. That means, on Aug. 1, millions of tenants could owe thousands in back rent or face eviction.

“There is a great concern that renters will no longer be protected by the moratorium,” Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, said. “They will be forced to cover their back rent that they haven’t been able to pay because the moratorium never canceled rent. All of that debt that people owe is still just accruing.”

More than 100,000 Louisiana families may be at risk of eviction once the moratorium ends. Hill said the loss of the additional federal unemployment benefits could hurt families because several tenants are unable to pay their back rent.

We tend to dehumanize people who are low income and treat them as if they deserve the terrible fates that may befall them. The economy has not recovered, and it is incredibly disheartening to know that our elected officials care so little about the economic plight of low-income people in our state.”

Cashauna Hill

Hill has advocated for a more comprehensive eviction moratorium and has repeatedly mentioned flaws. She also says the pandemic is not over and that kicking people from their homes in one of the lowest vaccinated states in the country could increase the spread of COVID-19.

“If the Biden administration lets the moratorium expire, and we don’t as a state enact any state-level protections, then thousands of families are going to be at risk of losing their homes and belongings,” Hill said. “That absolutely will increase positive COVID cases in communities where vaccinations are low.”

Hill believes not having an eviction moratorium in place leads to an increase in coronavirus cases. She points to the seven-week period between mid-June 2020 when the state eviction moratorium ended and August 2020 when a federal eviction moratorium began.

“In that seven-week period where there was not a state or federal eviction moratorium in place here in Louisiana, we see a sharp increase in the number of COVID cases and deaths,” she said. “We implore Governor Edwards to issue a state-wide ban on evictions if the federal government does not extend the current federal eviction moratorium.”

The eviction protection ending also puts Central Louisiana service organizations addressing homelessness, mental illness and other health disparities in a tough spot. In fact, it could be a grave scenario as the moratorium expires and more families could be on the streets in our area.

“Now once that is lifted, it’s really hard to say what those numbers could be. Some estimates show anywhere from like 30% to 50% increase in homelessness that could happen after the eviction moratorium,” Buzzetta said. “At least six months down the road we could at least see a 50% increase in the number of people who are on the streets in our community.”

In December, Congress approved $300 million in rental assistance in Louisiana. For families in Central Louisiana parishes, the application for the statewide rental assistance program can be found on lastaterent.com

Applicants eligible for the program may receive assistance with rent money owed dating back to April 2020. The program also gives struggling rent assistance, paying up to three months of future rent.

For information on the eviction moratorium, click here.

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