Columnist Geoff Daily explores Lafayette’s economy and government, providing critical commentary about what’s working and what’s not.

Column: Will Lafayette accept Landry’s homeless shelter funding veto lying down?

St. Joseph Diner and St. Joseph shelter
The only shelter in the eight-parish region that accepts single homeless adults, St. Joseph may cease operations after Gov. Jeff Landry's decision to strip the nonprofit that runs it of $1 million in funding. Photo by Travis Gauthier

While Gov. Jeff Landry advocates for the Ten Commandments in schools, he just violated a pretty important one: thou shalt not kill. His decision to veto $1 million for Catholic Charities of Acadiana to run its homeless shelter — if left unchecked — could literally kill people.

The shelter in question is currently the only one in the eight-parish region around Lafayette that accepts single homeless adults. It shelters 87 people per night in 20 bedrooms with 10 bathrooms, and has surged capacity to 120 during hazardous weather conditions. It costs $1.3 million per year to operate with barebones staffing and security. It’s the last line of defense to keep someone from living on the streets.

St. Joseph Shelter has been operating at a temporary location on Willow Street and had been preparing to return to its St. John Street location after a state grant-funded $1.8 million renovation.

But now, because of Landry’s veto, Lafayette’s safety net is at risk of being torn asunder. The shelter’s new fiscal year starts Monday, and it just lost more than 75% of its funding. There’s a serious chance this shortfall will force the shelter to reduce services or close entirely.

And this is happening at a time when Lafayette lacks shelter space.

The impact of that possibility is devastating to consider. Dozens of human beings, many with serious mental or physical illnesses and disabilities, could be forced out onto the hot summer streets. With literally nowhere else to go, they’d be forced to make shelter wherever they can find it.

Catholic Charities of Acadiana's Kim Boudreaux at Joseph Shelter
Catholic Charities of Acadiana's Kim Boudreaux, photographed in 2021 at Joseph Shelter for men, which sat empty due to Covid restrictions. The only shelter in the eight-parish region that accepts single homeless adults, St. Joseph may cease operations after Gov. Jeff Landry's decision to strip the nonprofit of $1 million in funding. Photo by Travis Gauthier

To date, Landry has made no real attempt to justify this veto. The only rationale given in his veto message is that, along with grants to three other non-governmental organizations he vetoed, this spending doesn’t represent the highest and best use of scarce state resources. And that the process for determining which NGOs receive this kind of funding needs to be revisited.

It’s hard not to see Landry’s decision as pure political grandstanding. Only instead of just rattling his saber, his action threatens the lives of Lafayette’s most vulnerable citizens. And really threatens us all. Because if the shelter closes, we’re going to have to live through the ramifications of having dozens more people on the streets with nowhere safe to sleep at night.

Now the question is: What are we as a community going to do about this situation? Are we going to take it lying down, without a fight, and without any response to protect the vulnerable and keep our streets safe? Or are we going to do something about it?

There are all sorts of things we can and should be doing as a community in response to this situation.

LCG has sat back and done effectively nothing for decades as this problem festered. Well, now is as good a time as ever for LCG to get involved.

For starters, our elected state officials should be raising holy hell about this. Even if they can’t muster enough support to overturn Landry’s veto, they should be letting him know that it’s unacceptable for him to make unilateral decisions like this without considering the downstream ramifications of his actions. And they should be working tirelessly to secure alternative state and federal funding for this shelter.

Our local elected officials should be finally getting serious about determining how Lafayette Consolidated Government can do more to support efforts to keep Lafayette citizens off the streets.

LCG has sat back and done effectively nothing for decades as this problem festered. Well, now is as good a time as ever for LCG to get involved. 

More on housing and homelessness

Local philanthropists and business owners should be thinking seriously about what they can do to not just respond to this immediate crisis but what can be done to address these issues in a more systemic, sustainable, long-term way. This shelter has been living hand to mouth for years, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Our community has the resources to come up with creative solutions that could resolve these funding shortfalls permanently.

And the public at large should be getting involved to demand that our elected officials do better when it comes to what should be their No. 1 responsibility, protecting the sanctity of human life.

We shouldn’t be sitting in silent disapproval. Now is the time for us to start making some noise, to demand that our community do better. To not let our elected officials continue to get away with decisions or indecisions that leave the people on the front lines taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves without not only the proper resources but without even the security of knowing they’ll be able to keep their doors open at all.