Evacuees Sheltered in All Manner of Places - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Evacuees Sheltered in All Manner of Places

By NOREEN GILLESPIE
Associated Press Writer

The Albuquerque Convention Center has hosted the National Congress of Computational Mechanics, the New Mexico Dental Association - and now, Bernell Haney.

Haney used to live in New Orleans. For now, he's among about 50 refugees housed amid the center's 600,000 square feet of meeting rooms and exhibition halls, a shelter that had been readied for as many as 1,000 evacuees.

Around the country - in a former aircraft hangar, military bases, church basements, abandoned buildings, state campgrounds - government and private groups are finding all kinds of places to house Katrina's refugees.

"I'm still up in the air thinking I want this to be my home, but my heart is still in New Orleans," said Haney, 50, after voluteer Barbara Dua helped him add his name to a computerized registry of survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Roughly 30 states have volunteered to accept hurricane evacuees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, though it is not clear they'll all be needed - refugees are showing a preference for staying close to home.

Private homeowners, small towns, nonprofits, churches, hotels and school districts are also stepping in to help people who, overnight, became homeless.

Longer-term housing solutions are being set up in public housing complexes, military bases and even dormitories for horse trainers. And in many cases, they're helping evacuees figure out whether to start over somewhere new, or rebuild back home.

"People have nothing to return to, no businesses to come back to, no place to come home to. They have to begin a new life someplace else," said Worth Thomas, chairman of the central Mississippi chapter of the American Red Cross. "There will be a rebuilding effort, but psychologically, a lot of them don't want to return."

City officials in New Haven, Conn., volunteered to place up to 100 families in public housing apartments. They were setting up teams of people to do everything from place children in the city's schools, stock kitchens with utensils and help evacuees obtain driver's licenses and find jobs. A local bank offered to put $100 in each new bank account; a retailer said it would donate pillows, sheets, blankets and a stuffed toy for children. Cleveland made a similar offer, opening up 1,100 federally subsidized housing units.

"There's a big effort not to place people in big auditoriums with nothing but a cot," said Ken Morckel, director of Ohio's Department of Public Safety.

This week, some states' plans to help were put on hold when the agency realized that more evacuees were opting to stay closer to home.

In Massachusetts, plans to convert Cape Cod's Camp Edwards into a survivor camp were temporarily suspended. In New Hampshire and Iowa, hastily arranged shelters remained empty. The Albuquerque Convention Center was prepared to take 1,000 refugees - and eventually, as many as 6,000 - but planned to shut down by the weekend.

Others are finding out that simply making an offer doesn't mean they will take in survivors.

Nonprofits and community groups say they're having trouble getting the word out. Elliot Kallus, a trustee at Miami's Hebrew Homes Health Network, has 125 open beds at a skilled nursing facility, and said donations to the facility's foundation could pay for the non-insured.

"It's heartbreaking. Our beds are still lying vacant," he said.

Other shelters were popping up in creative locations. Three hundred evacuees are being housed for two months in dormitories for horse grooms at the Palm Meadows Thoroughbred Training Center in Boyton Beach, Fla., where Kentucky Derby winners Funny Cide and Smarty Jones trained. When racing season begins, they will be transferred to a trailer village the center's owners plan to build in northern Louisiana.

In St. Louis, officials are running background checks on those who volunteer to take in families, but first, they're putting the refugees up at a mini city complete with a clinic, pharmacy, food, cots and showers at the former Boeing hangar at Lambert Airport. In San Francisco, a shelter was being prepared under a cathedral.

In other places, shelters were working to help evacuees rebuild or regroup. At Faith Crossing Church in Forney, Texas, members are working to move evacuees from a church shelter into nearby housing, because many may want to start over in Texas. At the shelter, life continues _ a baby was born to an evacuated family on Saturday.

"This is a place to stay," said Alfred Delaney, who left New Orleans with his fiancee and found a temporary home at the church with about 200 others. "You feel home here and the depression stuff sort of fades some."

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Associated Press Writers Stephen Singer in New Haven, Conn.; Matt Apuzzo in Jackson, Miss.; Betsy Blaney in Dallas; Connie Mabin in Cleveland; Cheryl Wittenauer in St. Louis; Glenn Johnson in Boston and Felicia Fonesca in Albuquerque contributed to this report.

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