With almost 600,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees living in hotels and motels across the country, government officials are launching a massive effort to transfer them into more stable housing, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
The drive, if successful, will significantly reduce what has become an $11-million-a-day tab, paid by U.S. taxpayers.
But officials are encountering an array of obstacles and inefficiencies that have threatened their ability to move evacuees into long-term temporary housing.
Among the pressing issues: a shortage of housing that evacuees can afford, a widely scattered population that is difficult to track, local opposition to establishing trailer-park communities and a mismatch between the needs of the evacuees and the location and condition of potential housing.
For example, just after Katrina hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) purchased tens of thousands of recreational vehicles and trailers for use by evacuees. But its plans for “cities” with hundreds of RVs have run into logistical difficulties and political resistance, with the areas widely derided as “FEMA-villes.”
A further complication is the unwillingness of some evacuees to move into certain cities or neighborhoods for reasons that include a lack of public transportation or fear of an inhospitable reception. In Texas alone, there are as many as 7,000 evacuated families with what are described as special needs.
And even with the $2,385 that each family can get from FEMA to cover three months of rent, the ongoing costs of rent and utilities can be a daunting hurdle for evacuees who no longer have jobs, especially if they now are in areas with higher housing prices.
To bolster efforts, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, the federal official overseeing the reconstruction effort in the Gulf Coast, has developed what he called a unified regional approach that includes strike teams representing various federal agencies that will try to help evacuees move out of hotels and motels and into less transient arrangements.
In his speech to the nation Sept. 15, President Bush said he wanted the hundreds of shelters housing Katrina evacuees to be empty in a month.
Officials believe they will come close to achieving Bush’s goal of emptying the shelters of Katrina evacuees by Saturday. As of Thursday, two days before the deadline, about 12,000 people were still in shelters – but many of those were displaced by Hurricane Rita, which followed Katrina by a month.
In all, the two storms displaced 1.5 million Gulf Coast residents. Though many ended up with friends and relatives, at one point 273,000 people were in shelters. The hurricanes destroyed up to 250,000 housing units.