Cold weather presents challenge for local shelters

John Guidroz

The damage Waters Edge Gathering suffered during Hurricanes Laura and Delta has made it impossible for the church to shelter the homeless during cold winter nights. With temperatures expected to dip into the low 30s and mid-20s early next week, the church purchased winter-grade sleeping bags, tents, blankets, and other supplies to protect the homeless from the cold.

Kelli Stawecki, director of homeless outreach and food pantry at Waters Edge, said the homeless population in Lake Charles has grown since the hurricanes. The church feeds hot meals to the homeless twice a week.

“Absolutely it’s the worst it’s ever been since the hurricanes because there’s no help and no resources,” she said. “It’s not just street homeless. It’s people who lived in low-income housing who have been evicted because the house needs to be fixed.”

Waters Edge cannot shelter the homeless because the church “has no walls or ceiling” since the hurricanes, Stawecki said. Congregate shelters aren’t an option because Louisiana remains under Phase 2 COVID-19 guidelines until March 2.

More people are resorting to living in tents or sleeping in their cars, Stawecki said. Below-freezing temperatures are dangerous for anyone sleeping outside, even with protective layers.

“I feel so depressed right now,” she said. “I don’t know what the answers are. There’s just nothing.”

Diondra Jelks, 44, has spent the last eight years homeless. He said the homeless community in Lake Charles doesn’t have many options for shelter after the hurricanes.

“The little places we did have were blown away,” Jelks said. “We’re staying here and there. We haven’t had anything safe since we came back.”

Forecast

Seth Warthen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, said temperatures are expected to cool down today into Friday. An arctic air mass could move in by Sunday and cause temperatures to drop even further on Monday and Tuesday.

Temperatures could drop to the low 30s Sunday and Monday. Tuesday is expected to have a forecast low of 24 degrees.

“It will get cold, but how cold is still up in the air,” Warthen said. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the forecast.”

Another issue is that winds are expected to remain at 5-15 miles per hour from Friday through Tuesday. Normally, winds tend to die down during cold snaps, Warthen said. Wind chills could fall into the teens on Monday and Tuesday.

“That’s going to be a problem for people who are a lot less sheltered,” Warthen said.

Forecasts show a possibility of ice, sleet or snow early Monday and Tuesday, Warthen said.

Supplies

Waters Edge has enough supplies to help at least 100 homeless residents in Lake Charles, Stawecki said. A church PayPal account,

paypal.me/wehomeless, was used to buy the supplies.

“If we have to buy more, we will,” Stawecki said.

Other agencies that assist Waters Edge in sheltering the homeless, like the Salvation Army, haven’t opened since the hurricanes. Community churches would help out during times of need, but Stawecki said most aren’t open or lack the resources to help right now.

“There’s nowhere for the homeless to get out of the cold,” she said. “Sadly, there’s no big solution.”

Waters Edge paid to house the elderly and families with children at hotels during cold winter nights in past years, she said. A handful of hotels would offer rooms with affordable rates. Most haven’t reopened since the hurricanes, she said.

“Maybe one is back open, but it’s $75 plus tax and it’s full of workers,” Stawecki said. “We can’t even get rooms there.”

Other hotels that have available rooms have nightly rates that are too expensive, Stawecki said.

Jelks called on Lake Charles to provide shelters for the growing homeless population.

“I’m out here in the midst of it,” he said. “We do have a large crowd, that’s for sure. We need shelters out here.”Hot meals were served at Water’s Edge to the area’s homeless community in 2019.

Rick Hickman

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