A thinning shelter population has county officials thinking about their next moves as thousands of Katrina Evacuees find more premanent housing. Officials are still hoping to have at least some of the larger shelters closed by this weekend.
The plan is to have at least the Astrodome empty by this Saturday, a day before the Texans home opener next door in Reliant Stadium. At last count, there were about 1,400 people in the Dome and a few thousand in other shelters, but nothing near the 27,000 evacuees in the shelters last week. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels says evacuees will have options if they’re not out of shelters by Saturday. “The weekend is not a hard date, it’s just our goal is to get folks into housing as quickly as possible. This is not a refugee camp. We’re not throwing them out on the street, we’re not going to send them out unless there’s a place to go. I have not talked to a single person who does not want to go,” he says.
As shelters continue to empty out, officials say they’ll start consolidating some of the larger ones and could possibly use the Astro Arena as the main shelter at Reliant Park. Eckels says officials don’t want to transfer evacuees more than they need to and that better housing is the goal for everyone. “At this point, we are not looking at moving the folks from the Brown back into Reliant, that they would processed out of the Brown and into housing as well,” he says.
Eckels says the Katrina disaster has affirmed Harris County’s emergency plans, proving the community can handle large incidents relatively smoothly. But he says it’s also exposed some holes in the plan. “We know that logistically we can do things better. We have found needs for technology to help register people as they come in, to find people as they’re dislocated hook-up with their friends and neighbors. A need for more community-based shelters than we have in stock now. We’ll be working on filling those holes in our plan,” he says.
Officials says it might be weeks or even months before they know exactly how many evacuees have left shelters and if they’ve found places to live within the community, on a temporary or even permanent basis.