If you ask locals whether homelessness is a problem here, many will say it’s not.

But the facts don’t align with the image we have of our region.

We like to think we live in a peaceful, somewhat rural place where the problems of many urban centers are absent.

The fact is, though, that there are homeless and near-homeless people throughout our area – people who are difficult to count or to help, say the people who are trying to do that.

Part of the reason that the problem is so elusive is that it is nearly impossible to know just how many people are homeless here.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development defines the homeless as those who are living outdoors or who are in transitional housing.

And the numbers are established on one night during January. This year, when the count was made, the extremely cold temperature we experienced made the homeless in our area difficult to find and therefore difficult to count.

In Terrebonne Parish, one of the transitional housing centers closed. But the people who were staying there didn’t magically find homes. Instead, they were just pushed into the shadows where, though they continue to exist, they defy the specific counts of the government.

“The problem we run into in terms of documenting what is truly homeless is that not everyone’s going to find them living in the woods,” said Houma Police Capt. Bobbie O’Bryan, who operates The Bunk House shelter. “The other problem is that people are picking up people who are homeless and letting them sleep in their garages, sheds or extra rooms. That number is also not accounted for. Then of course you have family members who take in other family members who have hardships. Those people aren’t counted either. When you factor in all those variables, we have a tremendous number or homeless people.”

So the question of how to help the people who are living without permanent housing becomes even more difficult. If we knew exactly how many people are affected, we would at least know the scope of the problem – the first step toward crafting a suitable solution.

As it is now, though, we have to be extremely thankful for the selfless dedication shown by the folks who are out there trying to help people stay safe, warm and comfortable. They are performing a difficult, often-thankless task that is nonetheless necessary.

If you are able to do so, think about supporting one of the local missions or organizations that work with the people the rest of us too often forget.

 

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.