For the last two months, Melissa and her 15-year-old and 16-year-old sons and her 14-year-old daughter have been living in a U-Haul van.
Melissa, whose name has been changed out of her fear of being recognized, and her family were already on rocky ground prior to Hurricane Ida tearing through Louisiana. She got COVID before the storm, was out of work for a month and then wound up out of a job altogether.
“I basically lost my place to stay, and it just went downhill from there,” Melissa said. “I spent all the money that I had saved up in hotels and different things.”
When the hurricane hit, the hotel she was staying in booked up, and when it was time to renew, it no longer had space. She could not find another hotel to stay in and her funds were running low. She filed for assistance but with no permanent address. She said she was put on a waitlist and has not heard back on any help.
Melissa found a part-time job, bringing home $200 a week but that is not enough to pay for a roof over her kids’ head.
“I don’t ever want to be like this again in my life, ever,” Melissa said. “It’s just if I can get around and find someplace to stay, I can manage this. It won’t be so hard. Everything else is material.”
For the last two months, finding a place has been difficult though. A “friend” has paid for a U-Haul van to help her get around town but instead, she has resorted to living out of it with her three kids. The shelters she reached out to she said would not accept her and her kids.
Michael Acaldo, the president of St. Vincent de Paul, said stories like this are becoming more common due to the lapse in the eviction moratorium and the economic hardships brought about by the pandemic, Hurricane Ida and the rising inflation.
“I think things, as inflation continue to rise, as evictions become more prevalent, you’re going to see more homelessness,” Acaldo said.
Acaldo said the level of homelessness and the need for housing assistance is as bad as any other time he has seen.
Fortunately for Melissa and her family, Acaldo and St. Vincent de Paul found room for her and her three kids at their shelter. That means they will no longer have to live out of a van, but it is just the first step in recovering. Melissa said she still needs a better-paying job, something that will help pay the bills and keep a permanent roof over her family’s heads.
“I’d rather be on someone’s job working than to do this because I don’t want anybody to just give me anything,” she said. “I want to work for it.”
Baton Rouge, LA