In this file photo from August 2020, Latasha Myles and Howard Anderson stand in their living room where they were sitting when the roof blew off around 2:30am as Hurricane Laura passed through the Lake Charles, Louisiana, area. The bad weather, Monday, May 17, 2021, including tornadoes and flood, hit the same area. (Photo by Joe Raedle /Getty Images)
As we witness a staggering increase in extreme weather caused by the climate crisis, a community we so often forget about is disproportionately suffering from its vast impacts: the homeless. During temperature extremes, severe weather and flooding, the majority of us have homes in which to shelter. But many have nowhere to turn.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has once again predicted another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, estimating 13 to 20 named storms. Thirty named storms made last year’s season the most active on record, and five made landfall in Louisiana. With storm frequency and intensity continuing rising, more people — especially those already financially disadvantaged — are more susceptible to housing challenges as they lose their homes or jobs after damaging storms.
Severe weather is one of the leading causes of homelessness because natural disasters can destroy entire communities and homes. Last year, thousands in Lake Charles were left homeless after Hurricane Laura destroyed homes and renters faced mass evictions from landlords due to housing repair necessities and unlivable conditions — all during a global pandemic. In 2007, two years after Hurricane Katrina, there were more than 11,600 people in New Orleans without housing. Since then, New Orleans has stepped up its effort to combat homelessness, decreasing that number by 90 percent. We can’t afford to erase this progress by ignoring the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis.
Hurricanes aren’t the only threat to our region. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the number of heavy rainfalls was 18% higher between 1986 and 2016 than it was between 1901 and 1960.
We’ve seen the extreme rainfall events that have recently affected our area. In May, while still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Laura, Lake Charles was hit with an estimated 15 inches of rain over a span of 12 hours, and erratic flood events like this are only expected to rise. In the event of a storm, most areas open storm shelters, but with the increase in severe floods without warning, this puts many people in danger and at risk of exposure to dangerous electrical hazards, contamination and fast-moving floodwater which can easily knock over adults and increase drowning risks.
While Louisiana hasn’t seen a huge spike in temperatures, scientists predict that without climate action, our already dangerously high temperatures will continue to climb and pose a deadly risk to the homeless population. Louisianians are all too familiar with extreme heat, but can you imagine not having a home in which to retreat? Heatwaves can lead to more deaths to our homeless population from heat exhaustion, heatstrokes and even dehydration since many do not have access to clean drinking water or cool shelter.
Many in Louisiana are still recovering from the detrimental economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that continue to force more of our community members out of their homes. With the highly contagious Delta variant spreading rapidly, COVID-19 remains an ongoing challenge. The federal eviction moratorium is set to expire July 31, and hundreds of eviction cases are piling up in court while storms have already developed in a warm Gulf of Mexico. This could ultimately leave many individuals and families at risk of homelessness. We must take appropriate action to ensure these individuals are safe from the elements.
Ozanam Inn remains vigilant in providing a safe shelter in the event of extreme weather. We remain open for those in need of shelter or to escape extreme heat or cold. While we do not accept women at this time, our facility opening this year will have an increased bed capacity and Ozanam Inn will accept women for the first time in our 66-year history.
For a while, climate change was a taboo subject but now it’s time for us to address its inevitable and devastating effects. After the past year of extreme weather, this is not a battle that our state and city leadership can face alone. We must set aside our political differences, show compassion toward one another and focus on the countless homeless individuals whose lives are at risk but are often overlooked in the face of natural disasters.
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