Finding Shelter

Moving Forward, With Help

D.C. Council member Marion Barry and Lydia Mease come to the D.C. Armory. In the foreground is Saundrea Fenasci, 7, a New Orleans evacuee.
D.C. Council member Marion Barry and Lydia Mease come to the D.C. Armory. In the foreground is Saundrea Fenasci, 7, a New Orleans evacuee. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Theola S. Labbe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 9, 2005

Fawn Gilliam paced outside the D.C. Armory yesterday, looking for a New Orleans family to adopt as her own.

She walked up to men and women who had the tell-tale photo ID card issued by the shelter and explained that her husband owned a janitorial cleaning business, so work would be available. She could offer food, shelter and anything else that would help.

"I just got so tired of making phone calls," said Gilliam, 38, a Baltimore mother of two who already had contacted several churches. "I just want to grab a family and take them home with me."

As the District continued to put up more than 200 hurricane survivors at the armory and federal officials said they would reimburse the city for the estimated $6 million cost of the relief operation, people showed up in droves to offer housing and to connect directly with the storm victims.

With most of the visitors unable to get inside because of security and privacy reasons, the steps of the armory served as an outdoor marketplace of good deeds.

Louise Murrell, 65, a retired janitor from Temple Hills, met Ronald Chambers, a 44-year-old construction worker from New Orleans. Murrell offered space in her home to Chambers and the eight other members of his family, including his 3-month-old granddaughter.

The two found common ground. Both are Baptists, and Murrell suggested that as a first step Chambers might want to attend a service at her church. He took down her cell phone number so he could follow up.

Chambers said later that he got a good feeling from talking with Murrell and was seriously considering staying at her home. But first he would have to discuss the idea with the rest of his family.

"You have a lot to look after before you make a decision," he said.

The number of evacuees staying at the armory continued to drop yesterday as some reunited with relatives and friends and others accepted such offers as Murrell's.

Of the 295 Katrina survivors who were flown to the District on Tuesday, about 215 people were still registered at the armory yesterday: 83 adults and 13 children who were airlifted with family members and 97 men and 22 women who were not accompanied by any relatives, according to Department of Human Services Director Yvonne D. Gilchrist.

The agency set up a travel table inside the armory to help evacuees contact friends or family throughout the country.

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