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Thousands of evacuees face eviction: Other Katrina victims homeless after aid problems
WASHINGTON — Two months after Hurricane Katrina displaced more than 1 million people, problems with federal housing aid threaten to spawn a new wave of homelessness.
In Texas, thousands of evacuees who found shelter in apartments face eviction threats because rents are going unpaid.
In Louisiana, some evacuees are beginning to show up in homeless shelters because they haven't received federal aid or don't know how to get it.
Advocates for the poor say the situation will worsen this winter.
“They are the poorest folks … and they are the ones who are going to be left with nothing,” says Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “It's going to show up at homeless shelters this winter.”
The housing crunch could get tighter in November, because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wants to move an estimated 200,000 Katrina evacuees out of hotels as soon as possible.
That increases the need for apartments, trailers and mobile homes.
Pressure is building on FEMA to alter its policies. Two programs provide rent money directly to evacuees or reimburse local governments. But many evacuees have not received the cash or have used it for other needs. And some cities refuse to spend their own money up front.
Representatives of apartment owners who met with federal officials in Dallas on Thursday say about 15,000 Katrina evacuees in Texas alone face eviction in November for unpaid rent or for other reasons. “You face the possibility of people who rent apartments being displaced again,” says Jim Arbury of the National Multi Housing Council.
FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews says the agency is not considering changes. Any city that runs its own program will be reimbursed, she says.
Evacuees who have trouble using FEMA's three-month, $2,358 rent checks can get help from caseworkers. “If (landlords) choose to evict people,” she says, “they're free to do that.”
Houston spent its own money for apartments for more than 5,000 families and issued rent vouchers for 25,000 more, says Sharon Adams of the city's Hurricane Housing Task Force.
Dallas used private funding to house about 2,000 families for two months, but the money will run out soon.
“As callous as it sounds, our commitment to them was two months,” says Celso Martinez of the Dallas mayor's office.
In Louisiana, directors of homeless shelters in Baton Rouge say they have taken in some evacuees from New Orleans who have nowhere else to go. “We're trying to help them get federal help, but they've sort of slipped through the cracks,” says Michael Acaldo, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which operates several shelters.