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Evacuees Settle in Houston

September 16, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


LEE HOCHBERG: After a hurricane and a flood, evacuation and a not yet finished odyssey in an emergency shelter, 350 miles from home, these Louisianans seem glad to be just working.

SPOKESMAN: Sign here.



LEE HOCHBERG: A crisis for many of the up to 250,000 evacuees in Houston is coming to an end. Some are trying now to figure out what comes next. James May and a dozen others have taken temporary jobs helping prepare new apartments for 120 other New Orleans evacuees. May says for him New Orleans is in the past.

JAMES MAY, JR.: I’m through. I’m through. They was poorly prepared for the flood. And I know it’s going to be another one and it will be poorly prepared. And I got out with my life this time; I ain’t going to play with my life no more, my family, my children, I ain’t going to play with their lives. I’m going to leave ‘em somewhere where they’re safe.


JAMES MAY, JR.: Houston.

LEE HOCHBERG: May says he was making more money doing construction in New Orleans. But it’s not about money anymore.

JAMES MAY, JR.: The water’s toxic and the water in the lake is — how could you separate the water? How could you separate the water? You will take the water out of the toxic city with the oil and the gas and put it back in the lakes so you can eat the fish and all. Somebody is going to get sick and die. I don’t want to be rich and dead. I want to be well off and alive.

SPOKESPERSON: There’s some employees to interview.

LEE HOCHBERG: At job fairs around the shelters, thousands are exploring options in Houston. Dennis Blossom wants to work in sports or public relations.

DENNIS BLOSSOM: I love this city. I mean, this is a good time; everybody who I have encountered from the city that has been showing mad love – they’ve been embracing us with open arms. You see I got my Astros hat on. I’m ready. I mean, I just want to be a productive citizen of this city.

LEE HOCHBERG: But even as Houston earned plaudits from nearly everybody for its warm welcome of so many in crisis there are questions whether this metropolis of 3 million people will effectively be able to absorb another city into its midst. Regional employment analysts say it could take more than a year to place an additional workforce of 50,000.

There are opportunities for teachers. The Houston school district created hundreds of jobs to handle new students from Louisiana. Rosalyn Singleton hopes to get one of them.

ROSALYNN SINGLETON: I have made changes before, but not this type of change. I mean, not a change where I had to leave in a hurry — in a hurry.

LEE HOCHBERG: So what you hope for here is -

ROSALYNN SINGLETON: A job. In administration or teaching. I’m not going to be choosey about it.

SPOKESMAN: Do you have work shoes?

LEE HOCHBERG: Houston has a shortage of nurses. But Shaunca Richardson who studied nursing before losing everything in New Orleans applied, instead, for an immediate opening, moving furniture.

SHAUNCA RICHARDSON: I have two children so it’s pretty much anything right now. I need money. I need to get a house, clothes, shoes, everything.

SPOKESPERSON: We have various employers coming in at different times. We have also got one, the Ding Doctor. They work on repairing windshields; they are hiring sales associates now.

LEE HOCHBERG: Jobs like that are not what Sharry Sandler had in mind. But she’s having to expand her options. Sandler was a licensed attorney in Louisiana and escaped to Houston with a friend. She found she will have to pass the Texas bar to be employable here and that could take six months. The state offered displaced lawyers the right to practice for 30 days. But Sandler is not comforted.

SHARRY SANDLER: I don’t know if I can make my life here. I cry every day. There hasn’t been a day that goes by since we got here that I don’t cry. I cry every day. I worked for 10 years to get what I have. And now it’s gone. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what is the next step.

LEE HOCHBERG: Some Houston opinion leaders also are unsure how to assimilate New Orleans population.

SPOKESMAN: We have fellowshipped one with another.

LEE HOCHBERG: Pastor Ed Young leads Houston’s 31,000-member Second Baptist Church. The church organized some 40,000 yellow-shirted volunteers to work Houston’s shelters, feeding and aiding the evacuees. But Young says a disproportionate number of those evacuees are poor and infirm and perhaps too much for Houston to take on permanently.

PASTOR ED YOUNG: We want to do all that we can. But we are overwhelmed. All of our services are overwhelmed. So the idea that we take in another 150,000 individuals, the idea that thirty or forty thousand of those who are unemployable in New Orleans will come to Houston — this is frightening to the city; it’s frightening to me. If we create another projects like they had in New Orleans, we have another, sort of, third world developing country among us that’s a welfare state. I think that would be a great tragedy.

LEE HOCHBERG: Some Houstonians say there won’t be enough jobs.

DENISHA DENMON: This is our hometown and we’re getting’ pushed back. And I don’t feel like that’s right because there are a lot of people in Houston trying to get somewhere in life and as soon as a tragedy comes, it’s like we’re pushed to the side.

LEE HOCHBERG: Texas political leaders maintain there’s enough bounty in Texas for everybody. Houston Mayor Bill White:

MAYOR BILL WHITE: What we need to do…is provide relief now so that we get the survivors back on their feet as soon as possible.

LEE HOCHBERG: Many evacuees believe they have no choice but to stay.

DENNIS BLOSSOM: If I was to go back, it wouldn’t really be the same. It just really wouldn’t. I mean, it is sad, it’s depressing to see my city, my neighborhood underwater. But it wouldn’t really be the same. It just wouldn’t.

LEE HOCHBERG: As she figures out what her future holds, Sharry Sandler is volunteering at Legal Aid using her knowledge of Louisiana law to help evacuees. She says she might work some tables for some income. The moving job for these young men ends soon. They will be looking for other Houston jobs to take them to the next stage of their very changed lives.