Hurricane evacuees to protest at tree lighting ceremony

C.C. Campbell-Rock
Date Published: 
November 25, 2005


Onlookers at the 41 st Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony set for Friday, Nov. 25, at the "dazzling winter wonderland" erected at Ghirardelli Square will see much more than a lit-up Christmas Tree. Sponsored by California Bank & Trust and Safeway, the event promises festive treats, entertainment and gift cards from Safeway to "bring the holidays home to families who were relocated to San Francisco form the devastated Gulf Coast," according to the bank's press release.

Members of the Hurricane Evacuees Council - Bay Area, survivors of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, will hold a silent vigil frorr 5 to 5:45 p.m. at Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point S1. in San Francisco, to protest the slow, inept response of federal officials, especially FEMA (Federal Emergency Management
Agency), the Red Cross and, most recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, all of whom seem unconcerned about the fact that 150,000 evacuees, spread out over 10 Southern states and in California and Nevada, may join the ranks of the homeless after Dec. 15, when temporary housing payments to hotels and motels are stopped.

The initial Dec. 1 cut-off deadline for federal payments to motels and hotels was apparently pushed back by the feds to avoid being labeled the "Grinch who stole Christmas."
The Bay Area Council evacuees are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of Katrina and Rita evacuees, nationwide, face evictions after Jan. 7.
According to FEMA, "Beginning Dec. 15, evacuees will need to tap FEMA-provided housing assistance or other financial means to fund lodging costs. In order to make the best use of the financial assistance being made available to them, FEMA is strongly encouraging families to look for more cost effective options that offer greater privacy and stability like apartments and houses."

"Over the past three months, many of those displaced by Katrina have made tremendous steps in returning normalcy to their lives ¬renting apartments, enrolling children in schools, finding jobs, and reestablishing their self reliance," said Scott Wells, federal coordinating officer for FEMA, in a Nov. 22 press statement. "Now, almost three months after Hurricane Katrina and two months after Hurricane Rita, we must help those remaining in hotels get squarely on the road to recovery."

Housing options include rental apartments or other properties both in Louisiana and out of state, travel trailers or mobile homes or temporary residence with friends or relatives. For those choosing the travel trailer or mobile home options, a temporary relocation to friends or family may be needed while the long-term housing is established. If this relocation is necessary, FEMA will pay for the relocation expenses, as well as the return costs once the trailer or mobile home is ready.

After living in a tragedy that refuses to end al"!d considering FEMA's tardy response, it's not hard to understand evacuees' reluctance to trust the government.

Government notwithstanding, the Hurricane Evacuees Council ¬Bay Area members have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day. They owe a debt of gratitude to Margaret Prescod and Nell Myhand of the Women of Color, Global Women's Strike, and Lori Nairne and Rachel West of the Global Women's Strike - Bay Area. Both of these groups have been facilitating the establishment of the evacuees' council. Prescod also took the lead in establishing the Women's Caucus of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition.

The Global Women's Strike is an international women's network with affiliates in over 60 countries.

Still, the holiday season is tenuous for most evacuees, many of whom don't know what tomorrow holds for them:

Myra Arthur, a career teacher, came to Oakland six weeks ago. She is still living in a hotel. She needs housing, food and money. "I applied for a job," she said, and for assistance. "If you were not on Section 8 or on welfare before Hurricane Katrina, you get no help. This means that all the work I've done (as a taxpaying teacher) means nothing."
Donald Ray Brown Jr. from Slidell is also having trouble getting housing and a job. "It's frustrating. I can't get housing or any jobs because of the paperwork required. Well, I'm sorry that I didn't think of bringing paperwork with me. I was too busy trying to survive," said Brown about the demand for official documents and paperwork that most hurricane evacuees forgot to pack up while fleeing from the greatest catastrophe in American history.

Marilyn Taylor and her four children are also having housing problems; so is Bertrand Todd and Gerald Cooper from Jackson, Mississippi, Vanessa McKnight, from New Orleans, Wingrove Robinson from Port Arthur, Texas, and Michael Mcintire from St.

Bernard Parish just outside New Orleans. They are all still in hotels or motels. Several are staying in San Francisco, others in Oakland.

Mcintire, an Army veteran, said he had been assured that he would receive permanent housing, twice. "They said I could move in the same day, but FEMA never provided the funding. I spoke with my sister, who is in Houston, and they got handwritten vouchers, and all they had to do is take them (vouchers) to a place willing to accept vouchers and they've got housing. AliI got is $150 of food stamps and a hotel room. Not only do I have no more food, I'm being evicted," he said.

JJ Johnson added, "As we speak right now, we're hungry and broke."
Among the most grievous evacuee cases are those of Joshua Istre and Sarah Petry from Galliano and Nicholas Dickerson and Kyla Martin from Crowley, Louisiana. The young adults said FEMA refuses to assist them, even though their homes sustained wind damage, because they lived outside of the zip codes of the declared disaster area. However, it is a documented fact that homes located as far away as 100 miles west of New Orleans sustained serious wind damage.
Butch Kinerney, a FEMA spokesman, on Tuesday told the SF BayView, "For overall housing assistance, evacuees have 18 months from Aug. 29 to receive housing aid. The Dec. 1 deadline has been extended to Dec. 15 in 10 states in the Gulf region, but state emergency management directors can submit plans for additional housing support for evacuees, up to Jan. 7."
Kinerney added that evacuees can expect to receive $2,350 in housing assistance every three months for 18 months. Evacuees can call 1-800-621-FEMA. «It (phone line) is open 24 hours. If you can't get through initially, keep holding on and following the automated instructions until you reach someone," he advised.

Several members of the Hurricane Evacuees Council - Bay Area will travel to Jackson, Mississippi, for the National Gulf Coast Survivors Assembly Dec. 8 and 9 and on to New Orleans on Dec. 10 for the Day of Return and the March for Self-Determination sponsored by the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition.

For more information or to join the Hurricane Evacuees Council ¬Bay Area, call the Crossroads Women's Center at (415) 626-4114 or contact Margaret Prescod at. margaretprescod [at] crossroadswomen [dot] net. For more information on the National Gulf Coast Survivors Assembly, call 1-888-310-7473.