‘No shelter’ coming to Ville Platte at this time

By: CARISSA HEBERT

Managing Editor

At this time, the old Wal-Mart building in Ville Platte will not be the state’s choice for a critical needs shelter.”

On Friday, March 14, The Gazette received the following email from Cheryl Michelet, director of communications for the Department of Social Services (DSS). “After Hurricane Katrina, the state recognized the need for Critical Transportation Needs Shelters across Louisiana and in order to be successful, we realized the importance of partnering with local communities. That is why we have participated in continued dialogue with city and parish authorities in advance of signing a lease in Ville Platte. We have determined it simply isn’t feasible to operate a shelter of this size in this community and will seek to award the lease elsewhere.”

On Thursday, members of DSS met with officials from Ville Platte to discuss the proposed site. DSS had been attempting to sign a lease for the use of the old Wal-Mart building. The proposed lease would have paid $666.66 per day during an unoccupied period of the building and $833.33 per day during an occupied period. If the building was occupied for more than 20 days, the full amount of $25,000 would have been paid to the owner of the old Walmart building, Larry Leger. The lease could have been in effect for up to three years.

Since local officials had heard of DSS plans, there had been major opposition from several areas.

Liz Hill, director of 9-1-1 and as OEP (Office of Emergency Preparedness) director, she had concerns. She believed this was a good decision on the part of the state, who made lots of efforts after the initial contact with city and parish officials, to learn more about the issues of bringing a critical transportation needs shelter to Ville Platte. She said the parish is just too small of an area to house 1,500 to 2,000 evacuees on top of what the parish normally sees during an emergency. “We’re just too small.”

Ville Platte Police Chief Neal Lartigue was concerned with public safety. He said this area’s supplies would be depleted, and during the discussions, the state couldn’t promise it could bring in supplies. “All of our resources would be depleted quickly,” he said. He said an additional 2,000 people on top of those who drive in to Chicot Park and Crooked Creek was a major concern when it came to safety and supplies. He also said the crime rate was considered, and the state could not keep people inside the shelter. Lartigue said he was concerned about people walking down the four-lane highway and the possibility of accidents occurring in the area.

Sheriff Eddie Soileau was also concerned with safety. He said he did not see any support for this shelter from the public either. He said it was important to bring the concerns of the citizens he represents to the meeting.

Bob Manuel, parish president, said the parish didn’t object to helping, but the state could not meet every single demand of these people. He said the parish would already have the task of working with the other evacuees who drive here, so there were several concerns. He said after several meetings, the state realized this also, and if they couldn’t meet the needs of the parish; law enforcement, medical, supplies for 2,000 people, then it wasn’t feasible.

“They couldn’t guarantee all of these people’s needs would be met,” Manuel said. “Unless they can do that, it wasn’t feasible. We already have a hard time supporting those who seek help here.” Manuel added there was a concern about those transported here entering the community, and the state couldn’t make them stay at the shelter.

Michelet said the state would continue to find a location for a shelter to house those with special transportation needs. She did not know if there were other plans to utilize Ville Platte for the state’s emergency needs, but she said they would not use the parish for this particular shelter.

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