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Sep. 2nd, 2005

The City of Houston is facing a refugee crisis of immense proportions, and efforts here seem only marginally more organized than in Lousiana.

Fire marshals can't seem to decide how many refugees the Astrodome can safely accept. Obviously they want to offer shelter to as many people as they can, but the reality is that overcrowding the stadium will result in conditions hardly better than those they left behind in the Superdome. They've begun housing people in the nearby Reliant Arena and I predict they'll soon be sending them to the Convention Center and then begin busing to Dallas and San Antonio. The Astroarena has been turned into a giant medical facility and is already completely overwhelmed. Relief efforts seem barely able to deal with the immediate crisis of getting people food and water.

The munchkin's school has been collecting clothing, towels, blankets and toys, but now can't figure out where to take them. Many charitable organizations around town are no longer accepting clothes, because the logistics of sorting, transporting and distributing them are too much to take on right now, and they're trying to concentrate on getting people food, water and personal hygiene products.

One of the teachers said a friend had gone to the Astrodome yesterday to volunteer, but the police sent her away because there had been muggings in the parking lot. The neighborhood around the Astrodome isn't particularly safe under the best of circumstances, and the influx of thousands of desperate, angry people forced to wait in long lines to be given shelter, medical attention or just a bottle of water is a riot waiting to happen. Meanwhile, the director of the local Red Cross chapter was on the radio today directing volunteers to come to the Astrodome, apparently unaware that the police were sending them away.

A woman who works for the local YMCA said that Y's all over town are overflowing with refugees, and YMCA employees are each sheltering 10-20 people in their homes. They're desperate for food, water, and new underwear. The food banks are also desperate, and have gone from asking for cash donations to begging people to bring in all the food and water they can. One fire station in Katy has 30 refugees sleeping on the floor.

The school secretary found out that a woman with five children under the age of eight is staying at the La Quinta nearby and is organizing a fund-raiser in her neighborhood to help pay her hotel bill. One mother reported that the Shrine of the Black Madonna (a Pan-African Orthodox Christian cultural center) is swamped with refugees and desperate for donations, and others told of a similar situations at St. John Vianney, the Chinese Community Center and the Jewish Federation. I can only imagine that churches and shelters all over town are facing the exact same crisis.

Everyone wants to help, but right now relief efforts are still disorganized and communication is poor. It's incredibly difficult to match up goods with the people who so desperately need them on a scale this large. And local shelters are so swamped that it's nearly impossible to get through to anyone on the phone to find out what help they need.

And the Houston SPCA is trying to take in the pets of refugees, because they cannot take them into the shelters with them:

Due to the hit from Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast region, the Louisiana SPCA moved all animals out of their shelter to the Houston SPCA. We are now accepting animals from those who are staying in Houston Area Shelters. For those needing shelter for their pets, please call our hotline at 713-802-0555.

Monetary donations are needed to help us care for the over 260 extra animals in our shelter and to help us help the Louisiana SPCA respond to the needs of the animals still in the area.


And then, of course, there are the asshats who will raise their ugly racist heads, concerned only with their own welfare, complaining that Houston's humanitarian efforts will interfere with their own comfortable lifestyles.

Unfortunately, their concerns are not completely invalid. People cannot be expected to live under these conditions for weeks or even months. How can Houston, a city with its own not-insignificant poverty problem, possibly absorb thousands of destitute and homeless families? And what happens a few months from now, when the media coverage has dwindled and the Red Cross has packed up, yet people still have no homes to go back to and no means to care for themselves?

ETA: Racism in reporting on events in New Orleans. Apparently blacks "loot" food from grocery stores, while whites "find" it.

ETA2: Looks like I was right--"Mayor opens Reliant Center, George R. Brown to evacuees."

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