After Hurricane Katrina uprooted C’eria Dillard, she and her family traveled to the Northeast, seeking housing and employment in an effort to rebuild their lives.
After learning she would have a job at the McDonald’s in Cheshire, Conn., Dillard and her fiance, Prudencio Fernandez, along with their two children boarded a Greyhound bus and made the two-day-long trip from Louisiana to Connecticut. Dillard’s family sought the help of the Interfaith Refugee Ministry, which helped her find housing and settle in Connecticut.
Connecticut’s Department of Social Services has contracted with IRM to provide case management services — including assistance finding housing and work — in the geographical area that includes New Haven, said Kelly Hebrank ’04, the Katrina Assistance coordinator for IRM. IRM has delegated case management services within New Haven to other local nonprofit organizations, including Columbus House, Hill Health Center and New Haven Family Alliance.
More than 100 families and individuals like Dillard have been in contact with the IRM office, a significant portion of whom are located in New Haven, she said.
Seven of the households have been referred to Columbus House for case management services, said Donna Foster, housing director at Columbus House. Case managers help evacuees contact the appropriate government agencies for housing and employment while also providing counseling for people who have had found their entire lives displaced by the hurricane, she said.
“For the most part it’s going better than we expected it to go,” Foster said. “There’s a lot of red tape, but most of it is being put aside for these individuals who have already been through a lot of trauma in their lives.”
Foster said most evacuees plan to settle permanently in the area after living in hotels or with relatives during the weeks immediately following the hurricane.
Two of the households under Columbus House’s management have already secured housing, Foster said, while the rest are awaiting inspection of their prospective homes. She said their housing is being provided by private landlords in the community who are willing to accept vouchers provided by the government. Due to the existence of private housing, evacuees are not filling government-sponsored housing, which is already in high demand among local homeless, Foster said.
Fernandez, Dillard and their two children have been staying with a host family in Cheshire while they wait for permanent housing. Before coming to Connecticut they stayed with Fernandez’s sister in Baton Rouge, looking for employment in an environment that Fernandez said was hostile to hiring evacuees.
Since arriving in New England, the family has been busy adjusting to the new environment, searching for housing and child care while trying to reconcile their pasts with their new futures.
“We’ve been in a lot of situations,” Fernandez said. “All we’re trying to do is proceed and retain normalcy in our lives.”
Fernandez said he and Dillard are not planning on moving to New Orleans once it has been reconstructed. He said he felt the economy was healthier in the northeast and that he would have a more secure future staying in Connecticut than trying to return to a city filled with uncertainties.
“If it happened once, it will happen again,” Fernandez said.
Evacuees seeking employment in the Elm City have been referred by case managers to Hildred Pearson, manager of community development programs at New Haven’s Commission on Equal Opportunities. Pearson said a total of 16 people have contacted her about employment assistance, and most have either been employed by companies such as Wal-Mart, or moved out of the city. One family, she said, is waiting to be settled into permanent housing before seeking full-time employment.
Dillard and Fernandez are looking forward to moving into permanent housing in the next week, pending a final inspection, Fernandez said. A home of their own will finally allow them to settle into their new lives in Connecticut. Having lived in New Orleans for most of his life, Fernandez said he has been enjoying the “unique” aspects of life in the northeast.
“I like it because you can actually see the seasonal change in the trees, the air and the sunlight,” he said.