In states as far away as Utah, survivors are offered shelter, services

Private homes, churches open doors

Red Cross notes long-term challenge

Katrina's Wake

September 06, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

From hurricane-ravaged Louisiana to cramped quarters in Houston's Astrodome to shelters in such states as New York, West Virginia and Utah.

Such are the paths that victims of Hurricane Katrina are taking, as hundreds of thousands of dislocated residents are dispersed across the country to sometimes far-flung places.

In vast relocation efforts, dozens of states are rushing to offer their services, opening the doors of churches, shelters and private residences.

"We have 142,121 people in 487 shelters in 16 states," Anna Correa, a spokesman for the American Red Cross, said late yesterday afternoon. "That number is going to keep on going up."

The immediate focus is on survival - providing evacuees with bedding, food and water.

But agencies say that with New Orleans and huge swaths of the surrounding areas devastated, temporary assistance will have to be expanded to include long-term solutions that could prove far more challenging.

"We're looking at a very long-term sheltering operation, which is unusual," Correa said. "We don't usually house people for long periods of times. And there's all kinds of other services that will now start playing in."

Although most refugees are holding on to the hope that they can return home in the near future, others are accepting the likely reality.

Regina Williams, 37, intends to remain in Houston as long as she can find a place to stay. Williams and her four children - ages 12, 13, 15, 17 - went from living in New Orleans to living in the Astrodome.

"It don't make no sense to get up and move all over again just to go back," said William, who most recently worked at Krispy Kreme doughnuts. "That's too much uprooting."

Some services have been offered to displaced residents.

In Houston, notices from contractors looking for employees have sprouted up around the Astrodome and at hotels. At a news conference, an announcement was made about auto dealerships in California looking for 40 to 50 employees.

School systems in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Texas and other states have pledged to accept displaced students.

The Harris County Department of Education in Texas is expecting to register more than 4,000 students this week.

In Washington, D.C., local officials said they expect to allow children into their school system. Officials were expecting refugees from Arkansas to arrive yesterday to fill a 400-bed shelter in an armory.

In Baltimore, city officials continued to take calls from residents willing to volunteer to house refugees while they make interim plans to place 1,000 people in local shelters.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey announced at a Democratic Party picnic yesterday that his county is willing to house 500 people. "We will find a place," he said.

Reggie Scriber, Baltimore's deputy commissioner of housing, said the city is determined to provide long-term housing and services for the 1,000 refugees expected by the week's end.

"We're looking to place these folks in permanent housing," said Scriber. "That's the goal. It's a big task, I can't deny that. But most of these people will probably remain in Baltimore."

Scriber said city officials from various agencies - including the school system - will be meeting today to discuss long-range planning.

He said that over the past two days, about 200 people, mostly city residents, had called offering to provide housing. "The response has been extremely positive," he said.

Fabrae Smith was one of the city residents who called.

Smith, 40, lives in a three-story rowhouse in Northwest Baltimore with her husband and a 3-year-old child. The family offered its finished basement, big enough for a family of four.

"It's enough for a mother and father and two children," said Smith. "We could share the kitchen and dining room."

Smith said she is willing to house a family for as long as it needs a place.

"People are in need," she said. "They don't have anything. We are blessed enough to have something that we can share. We have to do it."

Similar sentiments were expressed across much of the country., a nationwide civic action organization, reported that people from across the country have offered 133,564 beds.

"We've got beds in every state," said Eli Pariser, director of the group. "But we're focusing on mostly finding beds in the Southeast."

Most groups say they are not doing much screening of volunteers or refugees, assuming the best in people.

"Given the scale of the housing crisis, it just seems like anything people can do is helpful," Pariser said.

Most refugees hope they will soon be back in New Orleans, a place that many have lived all their lives.

Ellis Ashford, 56, is one of them. The former roofer, who is on disability, intends to go back home. "We're not refugees; we're just people who got caught up in a bad thing," said Ashford. "Louisiana survives. New Orleans is going to be a bigger and better place."

Sun staff writers Larry Carson and Matthew Hay Brown in Houston contributed to this article.

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