They may not have a home, but the New Orleans storm survivors will have an address.
Inside the D.C. Armory yesterday, U.S. Postal Service employee Donna Nutter sat at a small folding table stacked with forms, explaining to evacuees how they could receive mail again. She accepted applications from 50 people for post office boxes, which will be installed inside the armory next week.
"They were so excited," Nutter said. "They love the idea that they'll be able to know where their mail is."
Although the number of people living at the armory continued to drop yesterday, officials at the shelter focused on the long-term needs of those who might be staying there for several weeks or longer.
A class in resume writing will be held at the armory Monday, and a job fair is scheduled for Tuesday. Officials are lining up affordable housing and apartment referrals. Food stamps, public assistance and Medicaid cards have been distributed to 250 shelter residents.
D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) said his office plans to compile a calendar that will list the various barbecues, dinners, church outings, zoo trips and other social events being organized for the evacuees by D.C. area residents and nonprofit groups. He said his aides are also collecting apartment and housing referrals from residents, real estate agents and city and federal agencies.
"When the people arrived, we addressed their needs as we found them," said Catania, who had pushed for the city to bring in several hundred Katrina survivors and house them at the armory. "Once you take care of the immediate crisis, then you provide ongoing services."
Of the 295 people airlifted from the New Orleans airport to the District on Tuesday, 178 were still at the armory yesterday, officials reported. Most of the others had left after reuniting with relatives and friends.
For those who remain, a bevy of emergency workers and mental health experts will try to create routines to replace the life rhythms destroyed by the hurricane.
Yesterday, residents ate rice and chicken with vegetables for lunch in one corner of the spacious shelter floor. A kiosk of about 10 computers with Internet access was full, while other shelter residents spoke with job counselors and filled out applications for public benefits.
Each day begins with a 10 a.m. residents' meeting where workers with the American Red Cross, which manages the shelter, make announcements over the public-address system. Meals are served at the same times each day, as announced by a poster taped to a shelter wall: breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at noon and dinner at 6:30 p.m.
Steven Steury, a psychiatrist with the city's Department of Mental Health, said having such routines is vital. On Tuesday, the storm survivors were greeted by balloons, applause and handshakes from local dignitaries. But once the initial excitement wears off and the evacuees settle in, they will look for ways large and small to regain control over their lives, he said.
"You can plan your time and have more control because you know you can come and go and come back in time for dinner," said Steury, the agency's chief clinical officer, who has visited patients at the armory.
Among the people brought up from New Orleans, some were homeless before the hurricane hit, and some are mentally ill, Steury said.
All of the shelter's residents are having to adjust to communal living, a lack of privacy and an uncertain future, and some will make that adjustment better than others, he said.
The more resilient types have made countless calls to friends and relatives, sought help from agency workers and started reshaping their lives. Others are paralyzed by stress, made anxious by the challenge of trying to recoup what they have lost. And some people have simply shut down and need immense help, the psychiatrist said.
Steury recalled one man who told him this week that after failing to reach eight members of his family, he was prepared to stay in the District for at least a year and planned on looking for a job.
"Some of them feel like this is going to be a lot longer than they wanted," Steury said.