- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

People going to the D.C. Armory to take in Hurricane Katrina evacuees said yesterday that the process has too many obstacles, frustrating some to the point of quitting.

“I’ve been out here all day, out of the kindness of my heart, and haven’t accomplished anything,” said Brian Ashford of Woodbridge, Va. “I’m motivated to give help now, but it’s discouraging to have to go through this middleman who is pushing away both sides. I’m just going to leave.”

Patricia Alexander, 53, of Upper Marlboro, waited outside the armory for more than three hours before an official came out to jot down the information and preferences of those still waiting.

“You had to stand across the street in line for a badge just to get into the building,” Mrs. Alexander said. “Then they wouldn’t give you a badge.”

She said another problem with helping evacuees get out of temporary shelters is that they don’t want to leave for fear of losing benefits.

As of yesterday, about 200 of the 295 evacuees who arrived earlier this week remained at the armory, on East Capitol Street Southeast, said Cameron Ballantyne, spokesman for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area.

He said the number continues to shrink as more of the New Orleans evacuees find alternate living arrangements. However, none of the evacuees is at risk of losing benefits for vacating the armory, he said.

Red Cross officials still could not confirm whether those in the armory would be eligible for the Red Cross debit cards issued to some evacuees in Texas and worth several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said last night it might stop issuing a similar benefits card given to evacuees in Texas because too many staffers would be needed to replicate the operation in other states. The agency is instead considering giving money to evacuees through direct-deposit accounts at their banks.

A block from the armory, outside RFK Stadium, more than 50 players and former players from the Capitals, D.C. United, Mystics, Nationals, Redskins and Wizards yesterday joined the Red Cross in collecting more than $35,000 for the evacuees.

Area residents trying to open their homes to evacuees are being told to call the city’s Child and Family Services Agency, which coordinates foster care, adoption and child-welfare services in the District.

However, spokeswoman Mindy Good said the agency is taking information only from other government agencies to conduct home and background checks for D.C. residents trying to help.

Those living outside the District were left in limbo.

Kimberley Lorden, of Vienna, Va., and her 1-year-old daughter came to the armory to try to take home a family of four, but also left empty-handed after a federal employee wrote down her information and sent her home.

“I understand they have to go by a bureaucracy, but [the process] is not easy,” said Mrs. Lorden, 40.

Mr. Ashford thinks the entire process should be handled at the armory.

“They could have screened me, run my records,” said Mr. Ashford, 36, a barber.

Some D.C. residents have run into other obstacles.

Nneka Williamson of Southeast arrived at the armory Thursday, searching for a particular woman to help but also was sent away.

“I don’t even know her,” Mrs. Williamson said. “I saw her on the news, and she had two little girls. But because I live in an apartment, they made it seem as if that wasn’t good enough. They didn’t even put my name on the housing list.”


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