Heartbreak Hotels

For Katrina evacuees in New York, it's no jobs, no phones, no closets, missing meals, and a government that wants you outta there

Half a continent away from New Orleans, some 480 Katrina evacuees in New York a re still attempting to navigate a cutthroat market for jobs and housing. More than three months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf region, some, like Vidho Lorville, had yet to receive a check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. With no money to rent apartments, they're bunking in hotels around the boroughs.

To make matters worse, FEMA's self-imposed deadline to stop footing the bill for hotel rooms in New York continually changes. First the deadline was December 1; then, after public outrage, it was pushed back to December 15, and again to January 7. Now a court order is requiring FEMA to keep paying at least until February 7. City agencies have been helping to support the stranded. The Department of Homeless Services has set up housing fairs where evacuees can meet prospective landlords and schedule appointments to see apartments. Some, like Syreeta Sharpe, aren't happy with the choices presented by the city. Sharpe would like an apartment in Queens, a borough not offered. Living conditions for those who fled the storm have been spartan. At the Apollo Hotel in Harlem, Janine Young said, rooms lacked closets, drawers, and telephones. People sometimes went hungry, she and others said, as meals failed to arrive (the Red Cross denies it missed providing any). According to Brandi Kilbourne, the caseworker assigned to the Apollo stopped showing up.Of the 11 evacuees quoted here, all expressed a sense of desperation, even as some also admitted to feeling left numb from the experience. One man from Orleans Parish, Christopher LaDay, is so outraged by the actions of the government that he is in the process of drafting a handwritten civil and criminal lawsuit against FEMA. Following are excerpts of their conversations with the Voice.


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  • Images: Katrina Evacuees in New York
    A 'Voice' Slide Show
  • Vidho Lorville, 35
    Ninth Ward, New Orleans
    at the Apollo Hotel

    I think the federal government could do more, a better job in terms of how they file different people, cases, how different people are registered. On the other hand, there's all of these particulars about the way life was in New Orleans that is not the same in the rest of the country. You know, a lot of people have a business and sign a contract, for example. They wasn't signing a lease. You can share a house with two, three other people and nobody had an agreement in writing. In the U.S., to rent a place you have to get a permit, to rent a place, be a landlord or a homeowner, you have to have a permit. This is the laws. And these laws wasn't applicable in a lot of the cases. Like two-thirds of the city basically wasn't following these laws. . . .

    The New York City people were very nice and they really helped us out and it's the first time I feel like the institution was taking care of things.That's the first time I feel hope from the process. And it was a specific day and you could feel that people was doing something. They wanted to be taking care of us. I could see that. There was no tricky vibe, no matter how you fill out the application or answer the questions.


    Brandi Kilbourne, 20
    Seventh Ward, New Orleans
    at the Apollo Hotel

    Oh, and our caseworker doesn't come anymore. Let me tell you something—I called her today. I made a meeting Friday and she was supposed to come here today. 'Cause last week when I came over to try to get into this house in the Bronx and I say, 'Where are you?' it's like 9, 10:30 [a.m.] and she's like, 'Oh, well, I'm at home.' I'm like, 'Aren't you supposed to be here?' She's supposed to be here from nine to five every day.

    [On why help is taking so long] Because FEMA's stupid. That's how come. They don't have no reason. They keep trying to tell me all kinds of reasons. First they told me possible duplication. Then they saying no, you're not a duplication. Then they gave me a reason, saying an inspector hadn't been assigned to where I live. But apparently, like, another family that stays in my same building—it's all connected, but three different addresses—they got their money. So I'm like, they had to have been there, because it has to be the same damages.


    Tammy Jo Roseberry, 28
    Uptown New Orleans
    at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Laguardia

    I was at the Red Cross and I was there for about five or six hours and they had the Internet. So I just got on the Internet and I checked everything and I looked at NYU's website, because I wanted to go to school there. And I was just seeing about enrolling for the spring and they have like, you know, for hurricane students, an application you can start late, so I filled that out and talked to a lady. She was so nice. I can't believe I can't remember her name right now. They got me enrolled in some classes and everything and it was synchronized. And I was actually really happy that day for the first time in a long, long time since the hurricane.

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