Houston is moving rapidly to place all the Katrina evacuees into temporary housing or permanent shelters. Today officials announced that they expect to close the Astrodome as an emergency shelter within two weeks.
Here's a first hand report from a friend who volunteered at the Astrodome last Friday, to give you an idea of the situation as it has stabilized and begins to wrap up.
"I helped out this afternoon/tonight with meals and drinks at the Houston Astrodome. You've seen similar pictures on TV over the last week but it is quite surreal being there in person. I have a hard time camping with three daughters in a tent on those same cots, can you imagine 11,000 people you don't know. There was even another large exposition center (Reliant Center) on the same grounds that held another 10,000.
Despite what poor and negative reporting is going on with the networks, this operation is running quite smoothly even with the enormity of the situation. Everyone has plenty to eat, drink, new clothing, clean showers, much needed medical help and people there who just care.
Seeing the lines of people ready to volunteer is quite incredible. I met a couple who drove in from San Francisco to help. I served meals with another gentleman from LA, whose wife's company flew him and her in for a few days.
Believe it or not, they are no longer accepting clothing or food because they have too much. Around 4 pm, kids started coming back to the dome after attending school in the area. They have Soc Security offices set up, Salvation Army, Red Cross, local housing assistance, faith ministries, FEMA and SBC has 1000 free phone lines set up for outbound calls available to all occupants.
Continental Airlines (based in Houston) is offering up free one way tickets to all to be with other family members across the US. Each day the crowd is diminishing as families are being relocated to other smaller shelters, semi-permanent housing or meeting up with family members in other cities.
However what made this trip most memorable and heart warming were the many people from New Orleans who personally thanked us for volunteering our time to give to them during their time of need. We live in a great country!"
Today's sermon at church reminded us that these people will still need our help and support over the next several months or more, but they will no longer be as visible to us as they were when they were clustered in these large centrally located public buildings. We need to continue to be involved once national media attention, fickle as it is, moves on to the next crisis du jour. Once there are no more dramatic pictures of rescues from rooftops, massive flooding, and teeming groups of evacuees for the cameras, you won't see and hear much about the hard, unglamorous, undramatic daily work of cleaning up, reconstruction, and rebuilding of lives scattered around the country.
O Lord, we see your hand everywhere as needs are fulfilled, families are reunited and strangers help each other. You want us to be Christ to others. You want us to give sacrificially. We clean out our closets and give away items we haven't worn in months. This is not sacrificial giving, please forgive us. Help us to give our time and our resources, because we love you and we want to express our love. Amen.