Southwest Louisiana is filled with good Samaritans who long to create a better future for the next generation of residents. Student groups, tutors, recreational sports, shelters, feeding programs, religious organizations — it’s fairly easy to get involved.
But who holds the true power to enacting lasting change?
Over the last six months, Entergy’s Power to Care volunteer group, the United Way of Southwest Louisiana and the Calcasieu Parish Human Services Department have hosted events to simulate the woes that Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, or ALICE, residents live with as they try to juggle meager wages and necessary bills. Most recently, the parish hosted a homeless simulation to teach residents what it’s like to navigate Lake Charles without identification, income or shelter.
The experiences were astounding, even painful at times. Invited guests scrambled throughout tables representing the limited local resources available for those in need, often feeling frustrated, hopeless and angry.
The experiences were simulated, but the emotions were real.
These “actors” represent the more than 40 percent of residents considered ALICE and the hundreds who sleep on the streets, in tent encampments or in the few shelters available. For them, it’s not an act. It’s real life.
Yet, the actors present at the these simulations don’t hold the keys to unlocking shelter and upward mobility for thousands of Southwest Louisiana residents. They are, for the most part, compassionate volunteers who will go home with a new understanding of the social crisis but no actual authority to make change.
Where are the elected officials when these events are held? Where are the police jurors, school board members, mayors and legislators who, through the power of their signature, can create policies to launch progress and find eventual resolutions to these social injustices?
We must do better. We must ardently invite those with power to the table and hold those absent accountable.