Evacuee Social Workers

The Harris County Social Services Department has a group of 14 individuals who are helping connect Katrina evacuees with jobs in the Houston area. The social workers have a unique connection with the population they are trying to serve, they are evacuees as well. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports.

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Darryl Jones worked in the Orleans Parish sheriff's office. Katrina brought him to Houston and since the end of last year he's been working for Harris County Social Services Department as director of the Hurricane Katrina Relief Initiative. The staff of 14, all evacuees, work on connecting other evacuees with jobs .

"We have a staff who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina so you have people leading while bleeding meaning they've been hurt also. So it's a compassionate thing that we try as much, we do find some irrate customers who want a job, who don't want to fill out any paperwork, who don't want to hear all the other components that go with being gainfully employed."

The Initiative has a grant through the Department of Labor and is working with the Worksource which helps with education, training and job placement.

"Our goal through our contract is to reach 800, but out internal goal is 1,200."

While the main goal is to help people find jobs, the staff often find themselves helping evacuees in a number of areas. Tamara Veal was a probation and parole officer in Louisiana. She's now working with Jones in the Hurricane Katrina Relief Initiative. Veal says early on she found that what was needed was factual information.

"And a lot of people we come into contact with, that's all they really want. They want something stable, they want to know the facts. That's basically what we've been doing as well as refering them to the WorkSource. But we're trying to get them in the mind frame to know that FEMA will not always be here. So we are trying to get them to the WorkSource where they can apply for jobs."

FEMA and other assitance programs do run out at some point, and Veal says they also have to help evacuees look further into the future.

"Different agencies only have a certain amount they can offer. You take advantage of that but at the same time every day you need to try to make plans for your future."

And Veal says she tries to convey that message to every evacuee she talks to ... and she says it applies to evacuees who plan to stay in Houston and to those who plan to return to New Orleans. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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