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.
Before leaving for a previously scheduled trip to Europe, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) took a short tour of the armory yesterday and said the mood was upbeat. Several children already were attending D.C. schools and others had enrolled in local day care centers, he said.
In the early afternoon, after the mayor had left, his spokesman Vince Morris took a small group of reporters inside the shelter for a brief look at the operation. On one side of the cavernous room, the hundreds of cots set up for men, women and families were mostly empty; one woman sat on her cot with a black carry-on suitcase nearby. In the center, volunteers stood behind several tables of donated clothes, folded and piled high. In other parts of the room, workers talked with evacuees across tables and officials prepared food and restocked supplies.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate's D.C. appropriations subcommittee, announced that the District would be eligible for federal disaster aid because of its relief efforts. Appearing with Williams at a news conference outside the armory, Brownback said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved the District's request for $6 million and probably would pay for city expenditures beyond that.
A spokesman for the American Red Cross, which is managing the shelter and will refer evacuees to city and federal agencies for housing assistance, said the organization was not getting involved in the informal arrangements that evacuees made to stay with strangers.
"As far as we're concerned, we're not going to give any type of direction; they're on their own with that," said spokesman Cameron Ballantyne.
Ballantyne said that the Red Cross gave out debit cards to shelter residents yesterday for amounts ranging from $300 to $1,000, depending on family size.
The Red Cross also set up a family information table outside the armory for people who stopped by in hopes of finding missing relatives from the Gulf Coast region.
Philip B. Terry, executive director of the D.C. office of the Red Cross, said that for the safety of the shelter's residents, the organization was not posting a list of their names for visitors to check. Instead, the visitors' handwritten messages were being tacked to a board inside the shelter so that the evacuees could try to connect with loved ones, Terry said.
Meanwhile, the offers of help kept pouring in.
The mayor's citywide call center reported receiving more than 30,000 calls since last Friday from people wanting to help the hurricane victims. On top of the normal 27 operators who handle calls, an additional six city employees volunteered to handle the phones yesterday, said Sharon Gang, a mayoral spokeswoman.
The District also created a new e-mail address for hurricane inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.