'Living in the trees' Part One: The homeless problem in SWLA - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

'Living in the trees' Part 1: The homeless in SWLA

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KPLC's Gerron Jordan and "Miss Sheila" KPLC's Gerron Jordan and "Miss Sheila"
Tarek Polite, executive director of Human Resources for the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury. Polite also leads the Southwest Louisiana Continuum of Care. Tarek Polite, executive director of Human Resources for the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury. Polite also leads the Southwest Louisiana Continuum of Care.
CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) -

Homelessness. It's an issue many times associated with big cities and considered a problem only on the national level. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2012, there was a recorded 633,782 people considered homeless in the United States.

Nearly 8,000 of those were reported in the state of Louisiana and of those, 162 were reported in Southwest Louisiana's five-parish area.

"If I had to rate the scale of the problem, I would say that it's probably medium scale here in Calcasieu Parish" said Tarek Polite, executive director of Human Resources for the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury.

He said that while 162 people represents only 3 percent of a national number, that's 3 percent too many. Anytime anyone lacks a place where they can lay their head at night, it's a problem, he said.

Polite also leads the Southwest Louisiana Continuum of Care (COC), working as the area's leading advocate for the homeless. He explained the difference between an urban face of homelessness and the face most commonly seen in rural areas.

"Calcasieu is different from an urban area like Orleans Parish where you may go to New Orleans and commonly see people who are sleeping under I-10 or on the streets or so forth," he said. "Certainly because we don't have people sleeping on Ryan street that doesn't mean that we do not have a homeless problem here in SWLA or Calcasieu Parish."

'Miss Sheila' is a former homeless veteran who lived on Broad Street in Lake Charles for three years. Thanks to funds administered through the police jury and the COC, she won't be counted as a part of that 162. She reflects on her time being homeless on the street. 

"Well, it doesn't feel quite as different yet but I got over there and I got things started getting there for me ... I'm just glad," Miss Sheila said. "I got stamps, income or working on it. Like I said, I got room and board over there so it's fine ... meals."

While Miss Sheila is one success story of the resources that are in the area to help the homeless population, there are many more who need help, and some where the access to resources aren't as simple.

"There might be some individuals who are just experiencing some minor temporary setback whether it's a loss of a job, income or something of that nature and they just need a little boost up. We can generally get that turned around pretty quickly," Polite said.  "For people who are dealing with more sustentative issues, it could be a little more difficult to get them into permanent housing."

In part two of this 'Living in the trees' special report, KPLC's Gerron Jordan introduces you to a man who hasn't been as lucky as Miss Sheila and is still living, sometimes at his own will, in the woods.

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