By Angela K. Brown
Friday, March 31, 2006
HOUSTON — Seven months after taking in about 200,000 Louisiana residents left homeless by Hurricane Katrina, Houstonians aren't feeling so hospitable anymore.
Many people in the nation's fourth-largest city complain that the influx has led to more homicides and gang violence, long lines at health clinics and bus stops, and fights and worse crowding in the schools. Some of those claims are debatable, but the sentiment is real.
"We still feel sorry for them. We still want to help them, but it's to the point where enough is enough," said Torah Whitaker, 25, of Missouri City, a Houston suburb. About 150,000 evacuees remain in the greater Houston area, which has more than 4 million people. Although some evacuees plan to return to Louisiana, thousands have secured housing and jobs and plan to make Houston home.
But a survey last month by Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg found that three-fourths of residents think that helping the evacuees put a "considerable strain" on the community, and two-thirds of them blamed evacuees for a surge in violent crime.
And a study commissioned by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has found a shortage of almost 14,000 rental apartments affordable to the largest group of evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, families of five earning up to $26,360.
The murder rate from the time Katrina evacuees arrived in September to last week was up nearly 32 percent from the same period a year ago, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said. He said some of that is attributable to Katrina evacuees but added: "I don't mean to send the message that all Katrina evacuees are involved in drug dealing, gangs and violent offenses."
Evacuees were involved — as victims or suspects — in 35 of the 212 slayings in that time period, Hurtt said.
Angelo Edwards, vice chairman of the Katrina Survivors Association, said most evacuees are law-abiding citizens trying to find jobs.
"We'd like for the people of Houston to walk in our shoes," Edwards said. If Hurricane Rita had taken a slightly different course, he added, the people of Houston "just as well could have been in our situation."
Some 21,000 students from Louisiana attend southeastern Texas schools, including roughly 6,000 in Houston.
Tatiana Boone, a Houston 11th-grader, attends one of several schools where brawls have broken out between local teens and Katrina evacuees.
She complained that the Katrina evacuees are getting preferential treatment, even though some of her classmates are even poorer than the evacuees. Storm victims were taken on shopping sprees to buy clothes and were showered with other gifts after they arrived.
"They shouldn't have to use that as an excuse all the time, as like, 'Oh, I'm an evacuee from New Orleans,' so you get this and you get that," Tatiana said.
The Harris County Hospital District now sees about 800 extra patients a month, said spokesman Bryan McLeod. The agency treats 1.2 million patients a year.
Still, treating refugees has cost $11.6 million. The district has been reimbursed only $1.6 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Medicaid and has dipped into its reserve fund, he said.
I live in Houston, and I’ve seen a lot of stories about “Katrina Fatigue”. I have no idea where these stories come from
Houston is a more interesting place today thanks to our guests. Many families are settling here permanently. The arts scene (especially music) has taken off. Everybody is friendly and we’ve gone out of our way to help the people that we met.
There were so many volunteers at the Astrodome during recovery that they were turning away people. When we heard that they needing interviewers to help people find jobs, my wife and I tried to volunteer several times, but ran into a bureaucratic wall.
There is still a lot of sympathy and charity here among Houstonians. I know that the city government is straining under the pressure, and has asked FEMA for financial assistance. But the tone of Houstonians in general has been consistently welcoming on every issue but one: crime.
We all understand that the crime problem is the result of “a few bad apples”. Everybody is concerned about crime, including the vast majority of refugees! The article does not mention that most of the crimes by refugees have been against other guests.
The criminals are no longer welcome in Houston. Everybody else, make yourself at home!