Community Local News

Women’s Shelter Proposed in the Opelousas Vicinity

Photograph: St. Landry Parish President Jessie Bellard with government administrative employee Kiara Rami to the left. (Photograph by Bobby Andoin.)

Editor and Contributing Writer

Discussions have begun between St. Landry Parish elected officials and a proposed funding provider who hopes to establish a non-profit-operated women’s shelter in the Opelousas vicinity.

Parish president Jessie Bellard has told Parish Council members that a woman who has received at least $1 million in grant money to begin the functioning of the proposed shelter is now looking for a suitable site to locate the facility.

“We have met with her over the past several months. She has come to us with a plan and that plan is impressive. The parish is very excited to become part of this. No money from the parish is being discussed, since it’s all money from the non-profit that will be used,” Bellard said.

Bellard is reluctant to publicly reveal the name of the woman who has qualified to receive the grant money until talks between her, parish government administration and parish council members proceed further.

More information will be provided about the shelter Bellard said, when Parish Government committee meetings begin in July.

One of the major issues with proceeding further with negotiations Bellard said during an interview last week is where to locate the proposed the facility which he said will provide auxiliary services for women whose lives have been disrupted by a variety of circumstances.

“Right now the main thing we are doing is deciding whether to build a new building for the shelter and locate it possibly on parish government property near the airport, or search for a building that has already been built and see whether it would be an appropriate location,” said Bellard.

Bellard emphasized there is no specific timeline for locating a place for the shelter.

Potentially refurbishing a former downtown hotel in Opelousas as a site for the shelter seems unlikely, according to Bellard.

The former Downtowner Hotel which was used as a women’s shelter operated and funded by the Diocese of Lafayette is now owned by the City of Opelousas.

“That’s one of the first places that we thought about, but after touring the building, we decided that it would cost too much money. I think there could be as much as $2 million available for the shelter and other funding and that might not be enough,” said Bellard.

In a separate interview Opelousas Mayor Julius Alsandor said the focus of city officials regarding the three-story hotel is to place the building back into commerce and use it as a commercial attraction for other businesses to locate inside the business district.

The focus of the proposed shelter Bellard said, is to use information and cases from the state district court system in selecting women who would quality as suitable residents for the shelter.

“We have been looking at our (parish prison) population and inmates and meeting with representatives from the DA’s Office. We are finding that often when they are released, women have no place to go. The women who populate the shelter would be driven by the court system and the drug court,” Bellard said.

Alsandor agreed that there is a need for a women’s shelter in the parish.

“Right now we have women that don’t really have a place to go. We will work with (parish government). I have had conversations about the shelter with (Bellard) and the need is certainly there,” said Alsandor.

District Attorney Chad Pitre said in an additional interview that domestic violence cases have accelerated recently as part of the district court docket.

A women’s shelter for St. Landry seems to have become a necessity Pitre said, especially after some women have moved through the court system and need to place where they can receive counseling and perhaps find a place in the work force.

“I’m not too familiar yet with the (women’s shelter) project, but anything that is needed along with input from the District Attorney’s Office is something that I will have to provide,” Pitre added.