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Study: Katrina evacuees who fled on their own faring better
8/14/2006, 12:33 p.m. CT
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Evacuees who got out of Katrina-flooded areas on their own early and those who landed in parts of the country with fewer other evacuees are faring better almost a year later than the thousands rescued and dumped in cities saturated with evacuees, according to a report released Monday.

The study conducted by seven law firms enlisted by the Appleseed Foundation, a nonprofit political action group founded by Ralph Nader, also found that local and state governments and nonprofit and faith-based groups acted more quickly and efficiently than the federal government in providing for evacuees.

The study focused on five major cities that accepted the most evacuees: Atlanta, Baton Rouge, La., Birmingham, Ala., Houston and San Antonio. It also took a close look at New Orleans, where about 40 percent of the city's residents have returned.

The study found that Houston, which initially received an estimated 250,000 evacuees now has about 150,000 living there. In Atlanta, there were about 100,000 evacuees initially, and now an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 are still there. Birmingham took in an estimated 20,000 but now is down to around 1,500.

San Antonio had a relatively small number of evacuees — estimated at between 25,000 and 35,000. But, like Houston, it took in poor people, many of them sickly, who had to be rescued. An estimated 15,000 remain there, the study said.

Providing thousands of evacuees with housing, education and health care services and jobs was a daunting task that fell largely on local governments, said David Gross, a partner at a Minneapolis law firm who helped conduct the study.

"The scope was enormous and unexpected," Gross said Monday, noting that short-term solutions put into place a year ago to meet evacuees' needs are no longer working as long-term solutions. About 24 percent of evacuees not living in their home cities remain unemployed, he said.

Generally, evacuees who landed in cities with fewer other evacuees fared better, the report found.

"They were able to be absorbed into the housing system and into the health system better than those in cities that received more evacuees," said James Howell, project manager for the study.

But no matter where evacuees landed, almost a year later they face a host of challenges. Among them are finding affordable long-term housing and mental health services for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Those working with evacuees in host cities over the past year are now facing burnout and mental health issues, and it's estimated as many as 500,000 people will need mental health services because of Katrina, Howell said.

"Mental health is taking its toll," he said. "It affects your resiliency, your ability to go out and get a job, rebuild your home and just get on with your life."

The study found that local social service agencies and faith-based groups were able to quickly provide rental assistance, utility assistance, volunteers for construction work, as well as food, clothing and shelter.

"So many people came to these cities with the clothes on their backs, with a blank slate, needing everything," Howell said.

The study also looked at Baton Rouge, which initially had 300,000 evacuees. There may be 50,000 still in the Baton Rouge area — 70 miles west of New Orleans. But the number of evacuees is very difficult to track because so many relief workers are living there, as well as New Orleans residents trying to rebuild their homes.

"Baton Rouge has turned into a joint community with New Orleans," Howell said. "That's where people live while they work and rebuild in New Orleans."


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