Harvey victims leave shelters but face dire housing needs

Harvey flood evacuees look through supplies at a shelter setup inside NRG Center Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

While the number of evacuees seeking refuge in Houston’s emergency shelters dwindled 10 days after Harvey struck, many people who still face dire housing needs.

Some of those who left returned to public housing complexes inundated with sewage and mud. More than 50,000 went to government-paid hotels, some far away from homes and schools. Others moved in with family and friends.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said 53,630 residents displaced by Harvey are currently staying in government-funded hotel rooms.

FEMA says it has about 560,000 families registered for its housing assistance program.

The temporary housing has been provided for 18,732 households, said FEMA spokesman Bob Howard. Once people are granted the assistance, there is a minimum allotment of 14 days, but that can be extended on a case-by-case basis.

FEMA officials also are weighing other options such as mobile homes should the need arise. After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, FEMA bought thousands of mobile homes for people left homeless, but the program was plagued by problems. Some victims who lived in the homes were exposed to high levels of formaldehyde, which was used in building materials.

While there were signs of hope for some displaced by Harvey, others were not so lucky. D’Ona Spears and Brandon Polson managed to get a FEMA-funded hotel room near downtown but got kicked out after one night for lack of state identification. All of her paperwork had been lost in the floodwaters, Spears said.

The family went to the Toyota Center, the basketball arena near the convention center that’s also housing evacuees. Then they were taken to a motel in Humble, a small city near Houston’s international airport about 20 miles away.

Spears said they have no transportation and no way of getting the children to school when it resumes next week.

“You can’t just pick the hotel,” she said. “You have to go further out, further out, further out.”

Morris Mack arrived there Aug. 30 and hadn’t been able to re-enter his home in a public housing development in northwest Houston.While he registered for FEMA assistance, Mack’s cellphone was wrecked by floodwaters, and he didn’t have a working email address, making it difficult for the agency to get in touch with him or send him a check for assistance. He was waiting for government offices to reopen Tuesday so he can get a government assistance card that he could then use to get a cellphone to communicate with FEMA.

“I’ve gotten to a point where it is what it is. There’s nothing I can do about it. Just trust in God.”