- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

Wendell Walker, a 44-year-old New Orleans resident who evacuated from New Orleans with his four daughters, sat outside the D.C. Armory yesterday to enjoy the sunshine and reflect upon the past several weeks.

“Life has been good here,” he said, despite Hurricane Katrina severely flooding his home.

Mr. Walker also considers himself among the lucky for having come to the District after the storm. Authorities have found him housing in the Capital Park Plaza apartment complex in Southwest and he can still go to the Armory for a hot meal.

“The Salvation Army, Red Cross, case workers, the National Guard, they’re doing a great job,” he said. “We’re eating well, sleeping well, nice cable television.”

However, roughly 70 of the original 295 evacuees still live inside the Armory with officials and charity groups acknowledging they have a tough task ahead of providing more long-term help amid waning interest.

“Everyone is reaching out in different ways,” said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman of the Washington Archdiocese. “The parishes are making sure they’re giving people support for the long term and not just a quick fix.”

The archdiocese’s 140 parishes have assisted about 430 hurricane survivors, enrolled 94 displaced children in Catholic schools tuition-free, shipped supplies to the Gulf Coast and raised thousands in donations, she said.

Miss Gibbs also said parishioners calling the Catholic Charities hot line have offered enough work for 40 persons and enough housing to help 260 families.

Still, such offers cannot helped everybody still living inside the Armory.

Some evacuees are waiting to return home while others are trying to connect with the right job or just sort out life after the hurricane took most or all of their belongings.

“They’re getting three meals a day, free phones and a safe place to live [but] most are just wondering what their next step will be,” said Cameron Ballantyne, a spokesman for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area, which is running operations inside the Armory, on East Capitol Street Southeast.

Barbara Childs-Pair, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, said the Armory will continue to provide shelter, clothing, hot food, mental and physical health care, and schooling for the evacuees.

“We’re looking at a long-term recovery process,” she said.

Mrs. Childs-Pair said the process will include providing the evacuees with such services as job training and continued mental health services.

She said 35 of the evacuees have been set up with jobs and that the agency will continue to work with the Red Cross to provide more housing and other services.

“We’re here as long as we need to be,” Mr. Ballantyne said. “We’re not going to shut our doors on anyone by any means.”

National Guardsmen from the region continue to offer support in the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. About 250 of 700 Maryland Guardsmen remain in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Meanwhile, about 70 of the more than 300 D.C. Guardsmen who went to the Gulf Coast remain there to assist local authorities with security.

A Greater Washington Urban League official said the group is trying to find people to offer the evacuees such services as day care and mentoring, in addition to seeking donations.

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