City aids Katrina victims

The city of New Haven will play host to up to 100 families uprooted by Hurricane Katrina, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced Monday evening.

Once in New Haven, families will be provided with housing, job training, access to public education, and whatever other assistance is necessary. Some of the arrivals may be placed in jobs at Yale, said University Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander, who is helping to manage the fund set up by DeStefano for relief effort.

“We see this as a larger effort than just housing,” DeStefano said. “Our goal is not to create a village or a camp, but to integrate them into a community.”

New Haven will be ready to accept up to 25 families every two weeks beginning this Wednesday, but DeStefano said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is responsible for identifying and transporting families interested in relocating to Connecticut. DeStefano said he cannot predict whether families would stay in New Haven permanently.

DeStefano said his administration estimates assistance for each family will cost approximately $80,000, for a total of $8 million for 100 families, but he anticipates much of that cost will be recoverable from FEMA.

Families will arrive at New Haven’s Citywide Field House, where city officials will evaluate each family’s needs and begin to provide them with appropriate social services in addition to financial and legal assistance, said Community Services Director Sheila Allen Bell. Each family will be assigned a case manager, said Bell, who said she anticipates many arriving families will need help obtaining the social services, such as welfare or Medicaid, to which they are entitled.

Although coordinated with the regional and national disaster relief agencies, this effort is predominantly a local one, Democratic U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said. DeLauro said the administration’s actions so far have been “unacceptable” and that FEMA’s response to the hurricane has been “incoherent.”

“This is what the federal government ought to be doing,” DeLauro said in an interview. “This is what government is about.”

New Haven does not yet have any information about the families that will be arriving on Wednesday, said Regina Winters, interim director of the Housing Authority of New Haven. The city has expressed a preference for those with families in the area, she said.

Arrivals will be housed in public housing drawn from the existing available inventory, said DeStefano. He said while this effort might delay service to the approximately 1,800 people on the waiting list for public housing in New Haven, his administration is committed both to reaching out to hurricane victims and to providing public housing to New Haven citizens. Over one-third of New Haven’s housing is public, he said, a substantial proportion compared to other Connecticut cities.

“This is about our community’s … willingness to do a hard thing,” he said. “Compassion and caring without sacrifice is hypocritical.”

The city has approached the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to discuss assisting the city with the cost of providing public housing, known as Section 8 housing, to victims.

The mayor’s office has also asked local businesses and retail operations to provide jobs or goods to arriving families. DeStefano said efforts are being made to find jobs appropriate for single female heads of households.

“Every single person we have reached has said they’re willing to help,” said Rob Smuts ’01, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff.

He said some coordination has been difficult because of the Labor Day holiday, but that the mayor’s office will continue communicating with local employers.

Yale is one of the local employers to whom the mayor has reached out, Alexander said.

“We hope to be able to employ some of these folks,” Alexander said. “Clearly getting a breadwinner for these families is one of the most important things we can do.”

He said the mayor called him only on Sunday night to coordinate efforts and that he anticipates the University will provide more assistance, including funding, once the needs of the families become more clearly defined. This effort, he said, is separate from the work Yale has been doing with the Association of American Universities to help university students from the area finish their semester’s studies.

Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee, said he anticipates the mayor will approach the board at their Tuesday meeting to discuss allocating funds to start the relocation effort. He said he is not worried that the allocated funds would constrict funding necessary for any other city initiative or program.

“When you see human suffering you use common sense,” Shah said. “These people have to get out of there and we need to provide whatever services we can.”

Shah said he is not yet sure how his ward will react to the hurricane victims, but he did not anticipate that their arrival would be a problem, even though they will be occupying public housing units for which other New Haven citizens have applied.

“It will take a while for it to resonate in the community,” he said. “A lot of this isn’t permanent, but temporary at best.”

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announces the city will provide housing for families displaced by Katrina.
Gary Fox
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announces the city will provide housing for families displaced by Katrina.

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