Leaders attempt to strengthen living facility laws while protecting the needy

Leaders hope to help unlicensed group homes become legitimate

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - For seven years, Debra Eackles ran an unlicensed group home while taking in basically anyone with unmet needs.

“A little girl was dropped off at my doorstep. That’s how I got involved,” Eackles explained.” It’s awful to see people that have been in hospitals most of their lives, now are homeless, and they’re like children. If they needed to be taken care of all these years, they need to be taken care of now.”

However, in 2005, through the help of donations, Eackles got a license for her living facility, Shekinah Glory, located on Government Street in Baton Rouge. She says it was not an easy task, but a necessary one to follow the law.

“You’re paying out money because you have to have insurance and mandatory 24-hour staff,” she said. “It’s very, very costly.”

Eackles says the amount of facilities around town operating illegally is still too high. She says to her knowledge, there are at least 50 unlicensed facilities in the Baton Rouge area. In an effort to help that group of facilities get the resources they need to maintain safe practices, Eackles met with them Friday morning. She isn’t trying to shut them down, but shows them how to operate safely.

“A lot of group homes have gotten really bad raps,” Eackles said. “The good outweighs the bad in what we’re doing and what is being done in the community. It’s being done with nothing given. This is people that have compassion and heart for the people.”

Eackles says they’re working to come up with solutions and provide outside resources for their clients who require daily assistance. Senator Regina Barrow has been a voice for people that need assisted living. Both Senator Barrow and Eackles say they plan to work together to make sure people aren’t displaced, but the law stays in the forefront.

“We don’t want to create those barriers where people that need housing, can’t get housing,” said Barrow. “We’re not trying to do that, but we’re trying to make sure it’s safe."

Right now, the senator and members of a task force plan to come up with a better system to keep tabs on these unlicensed operators and strengthen the laws already in place.

“In my opinion, there are very few regulations,” the senator said. “Oftentimes what happens is because they don’t have to register, they’re not following any state guidelines as it relates other than trying to make sure it’s safe and habitable.”

“They need to be safe. We need to have some kind of accountability,” Eackles said.

Senator Barrow says the task force has already had five meetings. She says they have plans to meet with the group homes to work on next steps.

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