Evacuees offered more than just a roof

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 21, 2005

When the Hurricane Katrina Transitional Housing facility opened last Thursday in Columbiana, only nine evacuees moved in.

Instead of the 86 to 300 the county had been told to expect, the bus brought nine to the John E. Jones Exhibition Center in Columbiana.

The county had worked for almost two weeks to prepare the exhibition center for those evacuees, laying plywood, carpet and tile on the floor of the facility and wiring it for Internet, telephone and cable access.

Shelby County Manager Alex Dudchock said as money runs short for many evacuees, there still could be more to move into the shelter; however, as of Tuesday morning, there were still only nine living there.

Shelter manager Jeanette Dickinson of the American Red Cross said she was expecting an additional evacuee today and two more by the end of the week.

When Alabama Gov. Bob Riley put out the call to Alabama counties to provide longterm housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina, the county set to work converting the exhibition center to a livable shelter for those displaced by the tragedy.

&uot;We need to spread the news that this (transitional housing) is something really good,&uot; Dickinson said. &uot;I’ve got everything here that people need &045;&045; everything except the people who need the help.&uot;

Dickinson said, for instance, she has a list of job openings just waiting for evacuees to fill them, &uot;15 job openings right now,&uot; she said.

She said there are 18 computers where those housed in the exhibition center can find jobs themselves, locate missing friends and relatives and register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

&uot;We’ve also got three children here right now, one in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school,&uot; she said. &uot;We’ve been able to get them registered, get eye exams, anything they’ve needed.

&uot;People have been wonderful in helping us with anything we need.&uot;

She said the transitional housing offered in Shelby County is unlike what most people are used to in terms of a &uot;shelter.&uot;

One shelter she had heard of in another state, for example, was only able to give evacuees a tent for sleeping and a pot for a bathroom.

&uot;It’s not like that here at all. We have real beds, not cots. We have privacy rooms. We’re really more like a hotel,&uot; she said. &uot;We have three 35-inch TV sets and 18 computers.

&uot;We’ve got everything it takes to make these victims as comfortable as we can. They’ve been through a very traumatic time. We’re trying to get their emotions back to some type of normal.&uot;

Work on the exhibition center cost the county about $200,000, according to media reports. Dudchock said he expects the county recover those funds from disaster relief funds.