Chance Ryan / HoumaToday.com
TERREBONNE PARISH, La. - The number of homeless people in Terrebonne Parish is on the rise as services statewide continue to dwindle, a survey indicates.
A February count that identifies homeless people shows 78 adults and 34 children in Terrebonne were either in emergency shelters, transitional housing or on the streets. This year’s count, which records the number of homeless people at a certain time, is 16 times higher than last year’s. The count was conducted by Houma’s Start Corp. and Gulf Coast Services with help from volunteers.
However, Brooke Guidry, operations director for Start Corp., said the striking increase is misleading because of the way counts were conducted in the years before.
“Those numbers are too low because we can get (last year’s numbers) in transitional housing and emergency shelters alone,” Guidry said.
The group’s yearly counts are more methodical and should help improve accuracy, she said.
Still, local resources are scarce in a time when people continue to struggle from the U.S. economic downturn, he said.
“We are always struggling with resources for the homeless,” he said. “We would like to increase our resources, but funding is one of the big issues in all areas.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave $1.2 million to programs helping the homeless in seven Louisiana cities. None of the money made it to Terrebonne or Lafourche parishes.
Meanwhile, the Louisiana Coastal Homeless Coalition (formerly the Houma-Thibodaux Homeless Coalition) has been revitalized. The group aims to influence local homeless policy, locate and secure resources for services, and administer and evaluate homeless programs.
The organization helps in Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption, St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes. The group adheres to an independent board of directors that oversees its operations.
“I don’t think people realize how bad it is in the parish,” said Mary Russo, a coalition member and Start administrative director. “If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. But there is a major gap here.”
The coalition meets at 10 a.m. every third Thursday of the month at the Terrebonne Main Branch Library, 151 Library Drive, Houma.
Willie Green, regional director of Gulf Coast Services, said more people are requesting assistance. His regional nonprofit social-service agency with offices in Houma helps combat homelessness.
The number of people who requested services through Gulf Coast’s HUD program increased by 17 percent from last year, according to data the agency compiled.
Green said the increase in demand coincides with the continued decline in local resources.
Two federally funded programs that formerly assisted homeless and runaway youths were not renewed in 2012, he said.
The Basic Center and Transitional Living programs assist runaway and homeless youths in Terrebonne, Lafourche and Assumption parishes.
“That right there is definitely having an impact on the number of people requesting homeless assistance,” he said.
Joni Tuck, Lafourche Parish director of Community Services and the Office of Community Action, said the parish offers transitional assistance programs to help people get out of a situation that might leave them permanently homeless. But that’s it.
“One of the holes in our safety net in Lafourche Parish that we are hopefully going to address at some point is that we don’t have a homeless shelter,” she said. “We still refer our homeless clients out to shelters that exist in Houma.”
The only homeless shelter in Houma is the Bunkhouse at 8424 Main St.
One of the homeless people in Houma is Sam Auerbach, who is from New Orleans. He wouldn’t say how long he’s been in Houma or how long he’s been homeless.
New Orleans’ homeless rate ranked second in the nation, according a 2012 National Alliance to End Homelessness study.
Auerbach said he doesn’t know where his life is heading, but he knows that he feels displaced from society.
“I don’t need much,” he said. “I scrounge up a few bucks here and there, and I get something to eat. I got a fishing pole, and I walk around a lot. I see people living their lives and looking at me. I guess that’s why I’m here, so people know who they don’t want to end up being.”
Louisiana, or the rest of the country, doesn’t offer much in terms of homeless assistance, he said.
“But it stays warm here, and there’s fishing and places to hide away from the people who don’t want me around.”
Nationally, the overall level of homelessness remained essentially the same from 2011 to 2012, with the number of homeless individuals falling slightly and the number of homeless families increasing slightly, according to an annual HUD report last year.
The report, however, suggests the numbers were due largely to local governments identifying vulnerable people and intervening to prevent them from becoming homeless by helping them find and pay for places to live.