One Good Thing
The place I work at is mostly men. So for once in 8 years of reception/admin work, I don't have to deal with the parade of flowers, balloons, chocolates and other VD gifts that come in to a office.
In other news, 12,000 hurricane victims are now being left to fend for themselves. Where are the FEMA trailer parks that were suppose to be all over the city (including the park across the street from my house???) The rental money given to people, well with the rise in rent prices throughout the city, your lucky if you can pay for 1st/last and first month's rent with that. Real lucky. Average rent seems to be have doubled in the past 5 1/2 months, going from resonable to incredibly insane. I know in some areas (Seattle, New York, Chicago,etc) these rents seem cheap or normal. However most of the people that live here are lucky to make more than $9.00 an hour, compared to the going rate in those cities for the same jobs? Is almost criminal. Sorry you lost your house, sorry we took you out of your city (state for some) good luck getting home, sorry you have no job, but we ain't paying anymore. Oh yeah try to overlook the fact that we knew about the levee breeches when it happened. Good luck! I wish there was something more I could do to help. I know that is why I am helping out with the Arabi Wrecking Krewe.
To get some people home.
Hotel check-out time arrives for thousands uprooted by storm as FEMA stops paying the bill
For some, loss of aid signals uncertainty
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
By Gwen FilosaStaff writer
Tirrell Turner checked out of a downtown New Orleans hotel Monday, carrying two trash bags filled with his belongings and much more on his mind than the fact that FEMA refused to pay for his room one more night.
"All I did was change my clothes and took a bath here," said Turner, 27, outside the Cotton Exchange Hotel, where he spent the past month. He was headed toward a $60-a-night motel on Airline Drive, to bide time until his apartment is ready March 2. "I was hardly ever here."
Turner, who lost his Gentilly home to the Aug. 29 floodwaters, is a full-time college student, a part-time security guard and one of 12,000 hurricane victims nationwide for whom Monday meant the end of a federally financed warm bed at a hotel. He said he did what FEMA told him to do: He took his $2,000 rental assistance and, after a five-month wait, landed a home in the New Orleans area.
But having done so, FEMA ruled Turner ineligible for further hotel room aid and sent him packing Monday. For the next two weeks, he will burn through his own savings for a room.
After sinking more than $542 million into hotel rooms since Sept. 1, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is dropping the curtain on a program that, at its peak, housed evacuees in 85,000 hotel rooms on a single night after Hurricane Katrina.
About 4,400 families in Louisiana were forced to check out of hotels today, FEMA said. Nationwide, 8,000 households remain in hotels on the government's dime.
"Regardless of when we chose to end this program, it would be painful for many people whose lives have been completely disrupted by this disaster," said Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. "It needs to come to an end. It is an encouraging step that people are moving to longer-term housing."
Falling into the safety net
Andrews said FEMA assistance continues to eligible families for up to 18 months and that other programs fill the gaps.
"There is an entire safety net of state, local and other federal programs, and nonprofit organizations, to catch those who aren't eligible for FEMA assistance," Andrews said. "Those volunteer organizations gear up after every disaster."
While many families have found apartments using FEMA rental aid, others headed out Monday for friends or families' spare rooms and couches. For other evacuees, still homeless five months after Katrina struck, Monday was just another tailspin into uncertainty, having been unable to navigate their way into homes, jobs or other staples of stability.
Calling FEMA has been an exercise in patience and futility, several evacuees said Monday.
"I could call them, but all they're going to say is my case is pending," said Keisha Carter, 25, as she left a downtown hotel with three friends, all asked to leave Monday after months living in various hotels.
Carter, who lost her job and Uptown home to the floodwaters, said she has been in limbo since Aug. 29, grappling with rebuilding her life. She is separated from her two young children, who are living in Texas, and on Monday piled into a car with her friends.
"Nobody is going to let us stay long," Carter said. "I don't know why people are worrying about Mardi Gras instead of trying to rebuild somebody's house."
Although Louisiana braced for a homeless crisis by opening emergency shelters, FEMA officials said they have helped find housing for about 88 percent of the 12,000 leaving hotels Monday.
An additional 1,100 families were simply ineligible for FEMA aid, said Libby Turner, head of FEMA's transitional housing unit.
As of Monday evening, about 30 people have been taken to a shelter in Shreveport, FEMA officials said.
Just in case, the activist group Common Ground had dozens of campsite tents boxed up and ready to pitch in the park across from City Hall. "Stop Evicting Hurricane Survivors," their handmade signs read.
A federal judge Monday denied a motion by New Orleans lawyers to postpone the mass check-out, but the successful lawsuit that won evacuees more time in hotels isn't over yet.
On Feb. 23, a hearing in U.S. District Court promises testimony and accusations that FEMA is violating people's rights to disaster aid, activists and lawyers said Monday.
"FEMA seems much more interested in clearing people out of hotels than in providing the required assistance to people in hotels," attorneys Bill Quigley and Tracie Washington wrote in the last-ditch effort to delay the hotel deadline.
One question, Washington said Monday, is whether FEMA's $2,348 checks to evacuees amount to adequate rental assistance in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Howard Godnick, an attorney with the New York law firm that filed the evacuee lawsuit in December, said federal Judge Stanwood Duval, of Houma, may grant further relief to those who remain displaced.
"This is a judge who understands that the problems left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are still there, particularly in New Orleans, where he lives," Godnick said.
Getting through to FEMA
New Orleans Fine Hotels, which runs 12 hotels citywide that house FEMA hurricane evacuees, said at least 300 rooms emptied Monday due to the FEMA hotel deadline. At the company's Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street, 145 rooms opened up Monday.
"For the most part, people have someplace to go," said Libby Wunsch, spokeswoman for the hotel company. "They have been leaving without incident. For a lot of them, the hotel has been home since the storm."
Desk clerks and other hotel staff members doubled as housing counselors for the evacuees, according to Wunsch. "The staff has been the main source of information for these guests," she said.
In court papers filed by advocates for the evacuees, a hotel executive said FEMA has been less than clear and consistent with requests for help.
"Our hotel staff has found it extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to connect with the FEMA toll-free line," said Francis Quinn, sales director for New Orleans Fine Hotels. "Many evacuees receive conflicting and inconsistent information regarding their benefits."
Tirrell Turner said he faxed all his receipts and paperwork to FEMA, asking for a hotel room until he can move into his new place.
FEMA called it double-dipping and ruled him ineligible, sending him to the front desk to check out Monday. Turner said he has enough money to pay for the Jefferson Parish motel, but didn't agree with FEMA that he was on some gravy train.
"I'm good, I can't stress too much about this situation," said Turner. "If I have stress, I want it to come from school and not from FEMA."
Lost in Houston
In Houston, evacuees from New Orleans dealt with various emotions and realities Monday.
"I feel like I'm lost," Carisa White said, walking through a nearly empty Comfort Inn parking lot. "I don't know where to go, where to start."
It was time for her to go, and she had no place to stay. She said she wants to go home, to Mid-City, but the one-way flight back to New Orleans FEMA said it would provide doesn't leave until Wednesday.
White said she's waiting for a trailer, but as of Monday afternoon there was no word on its status.
"It's disgusting," she said. "I been crying all morning."
White said her bank account is already $1,000 overdrawn.
On Monday, Zelalem Heruy made one last call to FEMA, an eleventh-hour attempt for more hotel time at a Comfort Inn, where he has been living since shortly after Hurricane Rita forced him from his Cameron Parish home.
Heruy said he hoped for an extension on his stay at the hotel. After 10 minutes on the phone waiting to be connected and another 15 minutes speaking with a FEMA representative, Heruy hung up the phone, visibly dejected.
Heruy, a former shrimper whose brand-new trawler was destroyed during the storm, said the $17,000 check from FEMA he'd been expecting was lost in the mail after he left a Salvation Army shelter, where he had stayed for a couple of weeks.
"I'll be OK," Heruy said, standing outside of Room 120. "I've seen the worst of the worst. But this is not just financial, it's mental."
Inside another FEMA-paid hotel room in Houston, Elouise Johnson sat down on one of the twin beds and opened the palm-size white Bible she keeps under her pillow at night
"It don't matter what man say," said Johnson, who longs to return to her 9th Ward church. "All the answers are in this Bible."
Johnson said FEMA gave her an extension until March 7 to find housing outside the hotel where she'd been staying.
March 7 is the final cut-off date for the FEMA hotel program.
Until then, Johnson reads over her favorite verses and chapters in the little white Bible. Psalms 22 and 23, 25 and 51 all roll from her tongue with ease.
When her hotel room assistance runs out, Johnson said, she'll let faith lead the way.
"I've already been blessed," she said. "I asked God for one room, one roof over my head, and he provided me with this so far. He took care of me here, and he'll take care of me wherever I end up after I leave here."