The shelter at the D.C. Armory for survivors of Hurricane Katrina closed yesterday, with the last few residents moving into hotels and apartments.
But city and American Red Cross officials said they would continue to assist the evacuees for as long as they remained in the Washington area.
Armory workers and volunteers folded up cots, swept the floor and stacked chairs inside the cavernous hall that first opened as a shelter Sept. 6, when 295 hurricane survivors were airlifted from New Orleans.
City officials and the Red Cross added employees and volunteers to a new walk-in center at D.C. General Hospital in Southeast. They said the center will provide the same social services offered at the armory, including housing assistance, job referrals and workers taking applications for food stamps and other public benefits. And Red Cross officials said they will continue to pay for evacuees' hotel rooms for as long as needed.
"We're not done," said Brian B. Hubbard, director of operations for the city's Emergency Management Agency. "We've got to take care of the ones who are left and who need our services."
The national Red Cross yesterday announced the extension of a program that provides federal reimbursement for hotel rooms occupied by Katrina evacuees. In addition, the local branch of the Red Cross has pledged to spend some of its money for hotel rooms in the D.C. area if federal funding runs out.
Of the nearly 300 people who moved into the armory almost a month ago, some left the area, some were reunited with family and others were placed in hotels or subsidized housing. Red Cross officials said yesterday that they did not have a breakdown on those relocations. But Cameron Ballantyne, spokesman for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area, said the organization is housing about 3,300 evacuees in hotel rooms regionwide.
Yesterday, the local Red Cross provided some of the former armory residents with additional money on debit cards they are using to buy food and other items. "We just want to make sure that everyone is well taken care of for the next while," Ballantyne said.
The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which manages the armory, had canceled events through Oct. 15 because of the shelter operation. The next event scheduled at the facility is a Latin music concert Oct. 16.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) put the city's cost of the aid operation at $4 million and asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for full reimbursement of expenses incurred from September through Dec. 1, which the federal agency agreed to provide. The mayor, who had toured the shelter days before the evacuees' arrival, praised D.C. government workers yesterday for their quick response to the crisis and said that no city resident suffered because of the extra attention paid to hurricane survivors.
"It's a sign of the strength of our government that we can undertake a humanitarian outreach without disrupting the flow of other basic city services," he said in a statement.
At the armory, workers peeled from the floor the blue duct tape that had marked each row of cots, 1 through 27. Large cooling fans were still. Two flat-screen monitors flashed greetings to an empty room: "Welcome to the District. We are here to assist in your transition."
At the walk-in center at D.C. General, in the 1900 block of Massachusetts Avenue SE, a half-dozen people waited in folding chairs as social workers and representatives from the Red Cross and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development doled out advice and helped in filling out paperwork.
Wayne Mancuso, 44, went to the center yesterday because he had moved out of the armory two weeks ago and his hotel stay was supposed to end Thursday. He said he learned about the shelter's closing from another evacuee.
"They should have at least sent out a letter or made a phone call," Mancuso said. Although the hotel manager said he could stay on, Mancuso said, he wanted reassurance from the Red Cross. He spoke to a worker and was able to get an extension for up to another month.
Edward Collins, 53, who has moved into the Travelodge on Bladensburg Road NE and was one of the last people to leave the armory Monday night, also visited the drop-in center. Collins had stayed at the armory for almost a month while waiting for his dog to heal at an animal shelter.
But he said he still had no idea who his caseworker was.
Delores Burrill, a social worker with the Strong Families program at the D.C. Department of Human Services, apologized to Collins for the mix-up. "We'll take care of you," she said.
After making several calls, Burrill found out that Collins had indeed been assigned a caseworker. Collins then recognized the name as someone he had been speaking with off and on since his arrival last month.
"If I had known that from the beginning, I would have asked about a whole bunch of things," Collins said. But he left with his caseworker's phone number written on a piece of paper and vowed to call her.