Kicked Out of the Heartbreak Hotel

FEMA can stop footing bill for hurricane evacuees

A federal judge in New Orleans ruled today that the Federal Emergency Management Agency can stop paying for hotel rooms for some 12,000 families still sleeping in after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some of those people might argue the government stopped caring for them long before this. In January, Voice contributor Tommy Hallissey caught up with several Katrina evacuees from New Orleans who were stuck in New York hotels.


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
January 3rd, 2006 4:06 PM

by Tommy Hallissey

Half a continent away from New Orleans, some 480 Katrina evacuees in New York are 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.


imageVidho 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.


imageBrandi 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.


imageTammy 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.

It was like some positivity, you know? And there's been times when it's been really, really rough and I really miss my home, and I miss my friends and I miss the way of life I had. And I have school through and I have these wonderful teachers and wonderful people, students. It's really been a big positive in my life. I don't know what I'd do without it.

[FEMA has] been making these ultimatums. I should be able to make my own ultimatums, like give me my rental assistance then. I just don't know. If they don't have the funding, then get the hell out of Iraq. Get the hell out of Iraq and take care of your own people. Just like if a man has a family and he's off with somebody else's family and paying their bills and then his own family's suffering—you gotta, like, take care of your own people first and your own country.


imageChristopher LaDay, 33
Irish Channel, New Orleans
at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Laguardia

Well, trying to find an apartment here in New York—the system, the way that they have the system is like, you know, you have no available space. When you try to get the type of apartment you're comfortable with, and you know you want to live in the type of environment you are comfortable with, they want to put you where they want to put you at. They want to come and they want to send people to the Bronx. You got murders going on in the Bronx; you got robberies going on in the Bronx. You gonna be responsible for us, if you put us in the Bronx? That's the question they need to sit down and think about.


imageJanine Young, 37
Uptown New Orleans
at the Apollo Hotel

I have lost all faith in my government. I fucking hate them. It was bad enough getting stuck down there and not have the police know anything what to do, not have FEMA come in. I mean, we heard on the radio that they said it was too dangerous for them to come in. How do you think that made us feel that were stuck down there, you know? We heard on the radio that the mayor was shooting at people and making them turn around. Or, not him, but he gave orders to the police force to do it. We heard the announcement. We heard that the twin span was completely out. From one time to another time we were told there was no way out of the city. You expected the government to come in and help.

[Now] I feel claustrophobic in my room. Not having a closet is a huge thing for me. You can't keep anything organized. There isn't a drawer to keep anything in. Nothing. You can't eat anything here; there's no phone line. It's not that it's remote, but it's pretty far away from anything you have to accomplish as far as getting what kind of assistance. They're treating it like you're in this system like you're a welfare addict and someone who's never worked a day in your life and that you should spend your whole day filling out forms and going through all these things like they put poor people on the systems through. It should be a full-time job. I don't even bother anymore. I don't put time and effort into things, you know, like the food stamps and all that. It's such a comic thing for me. They want me, after I have a job, to go to this work center and sit there for like eight hours a day to get job training in order to qualify for food stamps.


imageCzar Nicholas, 30
Uptown New Orleans
at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Laguardia

I've looked at Craigslist. I've gone to people directly in the neighborhood. They kind of understand me, but they're skeptical as well. Say if an apartment was $1,000 a month and I only gave them $2,000, what's going to assure them that they are going to keep getting money every month? I ain't got no job.I don't have a legitimate 1040 out here. They're kinda skeptical on that. You tell them FEMA's going to pay for it and they say FEMA's kicking you out of the hotel. How you say they going to give you money all of a sudden? How you going to get money from someone that's telling you to bounce?


imageSteve Mosgrove, 27
Uptown New Orleans
at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Laguardia

Them not continuing this hotel thing? It's got to end sometime. I don't enjoy being on any kind of public assistance. But at this point it is just getting by. Eventually I'll have to get some type of work, get on my feet. It's just too long or too much.

My dad passed away in the hurricane. He was in Chalmette—a tidal wave, basically. He got up to the attic. He had some supplies but he died. When we went up there, we found a full gallon of water, his medicines, some supplies and everything. The water was unopened. Whatever happened had to have happened relatively quick. My expectation is a heart attack or a snakebite.


imageCarl Crosby, 29
Ninth Ward, New Orleans
at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Laguardia

You know what? I can't really charge them, because I was watching on CNN yesterday—last year, 20,000 people being displaced was the largest ever in FEMA's history. Now you got from 20,000 to 400,000. If you're not already on your game—and I don't think FEMA's on their game—how are you going to deal with that?


imageRonald West, 18
Kenner, Louisiana
at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Laguardia

You tell them you are from New Orleans or you tell them you are a Katrina evacuee, they think they are better than you. You complain to them, they think you're lying because you are a Katrina evacuee. You know, stuff like that. I've never been treated in this manner.

The landlord hear you are a Katrina evacuee, they think you don't have money. I do have money, you know. It's like people want to feel sorry for you, but they don't even care, you know? I have money to pay, but they don't want to hear that.


imageSyreeta Sharpe, 25
Orleans Parish
at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Laguardia

The problem is, they wait until the deadline to help us. We've been here almost three months. If they had started earlier, we wouldn't be here. We'd be in an apartment right now.

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