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BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Over the course of 2021, Louisiana’s Acadiana Regional Coalition for Homelessness and Housing reported that it placed nearly 1,700 individuals in shelters.

And in East Baton Rouge (EBR) Parish, one survey from 2019 indicated that approximately 353 individuals in the parish were without permanent housing.

With experts reporting a near windfall of available job opportunities, why are so many individuals struggling with homelessness?

One woman who lacked permanent housing for a time explained her situation with the following words, “People usually don’t plan on becoming homeless. I certainly didn’t.”

She went on to say, “Everything started to crumble. I lost my job, my looks, my money … and I was forced to start living in my car.”

According to The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, insufficient income coupled with a lack of affordable housing is the leading cause of homelessness.

To illustrate, a single mother named Nereida told National Public Radio in a 2018 interview that even though she worked full-time in a doctor’s office, she was homeless.

Her job paid well above minimum wage at a rate of $17 per hour, but she still couldn’t afford housing.

When asked why, Nereida explained that between suffering from a bad credit score, making monthly car payments, shelling out money for gas, and covering the cost of childcare, she wasn’t able to save for a security deposit, let alone first and last month’s rent.

Though she was usually able to sleep at a friend’s place, there were nights when the only available shelter was her car.

“There’s been several times where I just slept in my car,” Nerida said. “I parked close to the gym, because that’s where I get ready in the mornings.”

According to one source, while it’s estimated that 25% of the nation’s homeless population is employed, financial obstacles such as low wages and high housing costs make it nearly impossible to afford stable housing.

Several other vulnerable members of the community who may find themselves in situations that lead to homelessness are survivors of domestic abuse, individuals with mental health conditions who lack resources and treatment options, and people who cope with addiction issues.

A 2015 study by the Family and Youth Services Bureau revealed that between 22 and 57% of all homeless women said domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness.

It can be easy to cast judgment on an individual who lacks permanent housing, but the truth is that it can happen to anyone.

A natural disaster that uproots a family from their home, an abusive relationship that demands immediate escape, or health problems that become too expensive to manage can all lead to homelessness.

But there is hope.

The woman mentioned at the outset of this article reached out to trustworthy friends and family members for help. Though she was embarrassed by her situation, she relied on their assistance and eventually began working on earning her Ph.D.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, she said, “Starting from zero is challenging, but it’s not impossible. I still marvel at the small conveniences like easy access to food and water and a phone, being able to take a hot shower every day, and having money to buy basic things that have changed my life, and I’m grateful for all of them.”

Click here for more on Baton Rouge-based resources for individuals who’ve lost their homes.