Tarek Polite: There’s a sense of working together here

Published 10:51 am Friday, May 13, 2022

Tarek Polite said he considers Lake Charles more of a home than his hometown of New Iberia, largely because it’s where he has spent the past three decades.

“Basically, I’ve grown up here,” he said. “It wasn’t during my formative years, but it was still a crucial time.”

Polite has been the director of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury’s Human Services department since 2011. The department coordinates most social service programs for the parish. They include mainly federally-funded programs like workforce, housing, community service and transportation.

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Polite first came to Lake Charles in 1988 to attend McNeese State University, starting his freshman year as a 17-year-old.

“It was interesting because I couldn’t do anything at 17 without my parents’ permission,” he joked.

Polite earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with an emphasis on management and marketing, in 1992. However, his graduation came at a time when the country was in the middle of a recession, making it difficult to find work. He said he bounced around various jobs for the next 14 months, even starting graduate school.

It wasn’t until October 1993 that the 22-year-old Polite went to work for the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury as its Section 8 housing coordinator. Part of his senior year at McNeese was spent as an intern for the parish.

“I met a lot of people at the Police Jury,” he said. “They told me they would call if there was a full-time position. I just thought they were being nice. A year later, they called me.”

Polite spent the next three years administering the entire Section 8 program for Calcasieu Parish. He left to work as the director of the Housing Authority in Vidor, Texas. Polite returned to the Police Jury in 2000 to work in the human resources department, concentrating on training and compliance. Five years later, he became the federal programs coordinator for the parish, a role he described as the predecessor to his current position.

After Bryan Beam was appointed parish administrator in 2010, he created the Human Services department and named Polite as director.  Polite said housing has been the largest out of the four federally-funded programs, especially since the devastation left behind after Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020.

Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 hurricanes, the largest thing that has changed is how services are delivered, Polite said. During the early 1990s, there were enough federal funds to provide adequate services and pay for staff. Those dollars have shrunk over the years, aside from the federal resources allocated for COVID-19 and hurricane relief.

“It’s been more about coordination of services and partnering with agencies to provide services for clients,” he said.

Polite said his home was impacted by Hurricanes Laura and Delta, as well as the May 2021 flood. His home took in 9 inches of water during Delta’s October 2020 landfall. Renovations from those damages were finished on May 4, 2021. Two weeks later, the home took in 18 inches of water. Polite said his family moved back into their home just before last Christmas.

Polite was one of many public officials who returned to Southwest Louisiana, just days after Hurricane Laura’s August 2020 landfall. Officials with various agencies banded together to restore services in Laura’s immediate aftermath.

“There’s a sense of working together and cooperation here,” he said.

Despite the risk of potential hurricanes impacting the region, Polite said he is staying put in the community he has grown to love over the years.

“For better or worse, this is home,” he said. “It would be difficult to uproot, no matter the circumstances. God forbid we have another hurricane, but even if there was, I would do the same thing. There’s just something about when a place is home.”