Journey Home Center Opens in Third Ward

New Orleans evacuees looking to get back home now have a type of one-stop-shop for latest information on rebuilding efforts. The 'Journey Home Center' opened in the Third Ward. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin addressed the crowd of about 200 social service workers and evacuees.

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"Repeat after me, I'm OK (I'm OK), I'm getting better every day (I'm getting better every day) I'm getting strong (I'm getting strong) and I'm going home (I'm going home)."

Houston's Third Ward Multipurpose Center is home to the first "Journey Home" Center to open in the country. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says the center will have the most up-to-date information.

"This is going to be your spot to find out where the apartments are coming on line, where HUD is getting ready to do its next work, where the next modular homes are coming on-line, where you can go to rent somewhere where the landlord don't jack you up."

Nagin says about 250,000 people have moved back to New Orleans. He encouraged those in Houston to not only register with the Journey Home office but to be active in getting help from the state and federal government to rebuild the city. Nagin told the gathered crowd that work is just beginning on the east side and that the Lower Ninth Ward is still devastated.

"I'm not saying we're not going to rebuild those parts of the city, I'm just saying it's going to take some time. So as you look for options to come back to the city, you may want to consider temporarily moving to another part of the city until your part of the city is back in operation."

Houston officials estimate that as many as 150,000 evacuees are in the Bayou city. The mayor's spokesman Pat Trahan says a poll of evacuees in the Third Ward area showed that 40 percent want to return to New Orleans.

"We are looking at the possibility of opening up two other centers and once the logistics are in place, there's flow here, they're ready to take on an additional site, they will do so."

New Orleans hired case workers to staff the Journey Home Center. Evacuee and activist Vincent Wilson is helping others return to New Orleans through the Disaster Survivors Association which he heads. But Wilson plans to stay in Houston.

"We understand as the mayor talked around, the fact is that it's going to be a staged recovery, is really what he wanted to say, five, ten, 15, 20 years. He can't take us all back in mass right now, it's impossible. Infrastructure is not ready."

Carolyn Varnado says she's homesick, but realizes it'll probably be another year or two before moving back to New Orleans. Varnado says the resource center gives her hope, but she knows she'll have to depend on herself.

"Trying to get a job first. Once I get back to work, I know, but they say they're going to help us get back home. But even if it comes to where they can't help me, I know if I was employed, I could get back home."

Later today New Orleans officials will be opening a "Welcome Home" center in the Crescent City. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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