More than 800 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina flocked to a closed retail outlet in Landover yesterday to seek help from government agencies and religious groups less than two weeks before they lose federal subsidies for hotel rooms.
From Kim Bass, a 22-year-old mother from Pascagoula, Miss., staying at a Holiday Inn outside Baltimore, to Kathy Curry, 49, a New Orleans resident living at a Days Inn in Camp Springs, those who came to the old Sam's Club building were still struggling for stability three months after the Gulf Coast storm.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced that it will stop paying for the hotel rooms of an estimated 150,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees on Dec. 1.
"I don't think that it is right that they are pushing us out of the hotels," said Curry, a former rehabilitation counselor for Goodwill Industries who returned to New Orleans and found her four-bedroom home destroyed. "I have lost everything. I am now looking on my own to find a place to rent."
As Curry talked, she was embraced by Carol Self, a resident of Metairie, La., who came to the center with her family. Self broke down and cried as she listened to other people's stories. "We have a place to stay. I feel so lucky because other people do not," she said.
Officials from Maryland's Department of Human Resources, Department of Housing and Community Development and several other agencies held the Landover event in partnership with Churches United for Hurricane Relief.
Lawonne Booker, president of To God Be the Glory Corp., got permission from Wal-Mart officials to open the empty building formerly used by a Sam's Club store. The Rev. Anthony G. Maclin, pastor of the Sanctuary at Kingdom Square in Capitol Heights, organized the churches to donate a range of items. "We just didn't want to put people in hotels and then just leave them," Maclin said.
Liz Gibson, volunteer-agency liaison for FEMA, thanked the volunteers and then addressed the storm victims. "The federal government is not perfect, but we are trying very hard to get you the assistance that you need," she said.
Jenny Schlager, a coordinator with the Maryland Department of Human Resources, said, "We hope that the deadline is extended, but if not, we are still available to guide people through the FEMA system as well as find them new housing."
Omar Smith, 25, had just graduated from the University of New Orleans with a master's degree in business when Hurricane Katrina hit. Smith said that he went to the Landover event because he's still looking for work but that he is grateful he has found a place to live in Clinton and is counting his blessings this Thanksgiving. "I am just giving God thanks that I am alive," he said.