Long Road Home

It was still dark on Tuesday morning when Lawrence Crader got on the bus and settled in for 20-plus hours on the road. He was eager to get started, though the destination wasn't the one he'd prefer. The two buses leaving from East Dallas, loaded with around 80 Hurricane Katrina survivors, were bound for Washington, D.C., and a protest outside the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Crader would rather be headed home to New Orleans.

"I could go back right now and work, but there's no housing, no place to stay," Crader says. Approaching six months after the storm, the glacial pace of repairs in New Orleans and FEMA's convoluted approach to aid has evacuees like Crader fed up. For them, the road to New Orleans goes through Washington.

The protest is sponsored by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national organization for low-income families. Since Hurricane Katrina, about 1,000 people have joined the Dallas chapter of ACORN's Katrina Survivors Association. Hundreds of protesters will converge in Washington from all over Texas and Louisiana to begin two days of protests on Wednesday and Thursday. A delegation will present acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison with a list of demands ranging from levee reinforcement to the reopening of Charity Hospital.

More than five months after the storm, most evacuees have enough federal and local aid to get by, but they live in fear that the government's bureaucratic whims could have them out on the street. Those in Dallas, estimated at as many as 30,000, still remember with anger Mayor Laura Miller's refusal to have the city sign leases in September, effectively blocking the planned route of FEMA housing aid. In Houston, by contrast, the city signed full-year leases, ending the uncertainty for evacuees.

FEMA will now provide housing aid through the end of this year, but Dallas evacuees have to reapply every three months. Head ACORN organizer Roderick Bivins says the short increments have allowed landlords to raise rents. "Some of them have started price-gouging," Bivins says. In some cases evacuee families have had to move repeatedly.

With the uncertainties of life in Dallas, it's no surprise that Crader and others are eager to return home, but on a recent visit to his old address in New Orleans' 7th Ward, what Crader saw made him wonder if he'll ever be able to go back. "The cars still have mud on them, there are cars turned over, there are houses with no roofs on them," Crader says. "Nothing's been done, nothing's changed. It's depressing."

 
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