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September 21, 2005


Several organizations and individuals have come forward to work with New Castle County government, making the effort to house and provide social services to refugees from the Hurricane Katrina disaster a cooperative venture.

"We're overwhelmed by the response we've received," Anne Farley, general manager of the Department of Community Services, told County Council's community services committee. "The county is really acting as a facilitator."

To date, she said, the county-initiated program is working with six families with a total of 17 adults and 13 children. The Red Cross has identified 75 other families which came on their own to join relatives or others in Delaware and the Eastern Shore counties of Maryland.

The county's  commitment to provide for 25 families is on hold, she told the Council committee on Sept. 20.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has suspended airplane flights to take flood victims to various parts of the nation until after Oct. 1. So far, 66,000 people have been taken to eight states.

When and if the flights resume, Farley said, "we're prepared to receive one."

In order for Delaware to be a destination -- and for the county to receive federal reimbursement for expenses it has incurred -- Governor Ruth Ann Minner has declared a state of emergency. Although no emergency exists in Delaware, the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires that it be done.

Farley said two of the six family groups have been moved from temporary lodgings in hotels to more suitable quarters. From early indications, the success rate in that regard is apparently 50-50.

One four-member family -- two adults and two children -- is in a four-bedroom house obtained through Catholic Charities with the Raskob Foundation covering rent for up to a year. Ursuline Academy has admitted one of the children, age 12, on a full-tuition scholarship. Her father, whose small business in southern Louisiana was wiped out by the storm, has found a job.

Councilman Joseph Reda said that the scholarship was awarded "not just because of what happened, but on [her] merits." She was an honor student at her former school.

No so satisfying, Farley acknowledged, has been the experience of a larger family group with four adults and three children under the age of four. Sponsored by an area church, they were placed in adjacent donated two-bedroom houses in Alban Park.

"They didn't feel safe" in that location, Farley explained. She said there was no direct threat, but they were made "uncomfortable" after moving in on Sept. 16, a Friday, by a loud party going on in the neighborhood that night. The resultant  atmosphere "was different from what they are used to," she said.

It later was reported by the News Journal newspaper  that the family was concerned because there are registered sex offenders living in the neighborhood.

Farley said that other housing arrangements are being made for them. West End Neighborhood House is providing case management for the family.

Farley said she could not provide more specifics because  "a policy of confidentiality" is in effect as regards the refugees' identity and circumstances.

She said three of the other four families will be moved out of hotels within about 10 days. The other is seeking housing on its own, but will need financial support. Three of the four families include children ranging in age from pre-school to their teens. One includes an adult son who has been missing since the storm hit.

The Red Cross is surveying the needs of families that have come to the area on their own. The community services department and the agencies cooperating with it will provide whatever social services are found to be needed, Farley said.

She told the committee that rent-free  use of 37 apartments and houses has been donated. Included is an apartment owned by Councilman William Tansey.

She listed among other private agencies involved the Y.W.C.A., Connections, Goodwill Industries, United Way, Community Legal Aid, Neighborhood House and the Hockessin Community Center. The Delaware Apartment Association, New Castle County Chamber of Commerce and Board of Realtors, along with area hotels and several small businesses, are on board from the business community. The state Division of Social Services, Delaware State Housing Authority, Delaware Emergency Management Agency and Delaware Department of Transportation are cooperating.

The program "represents the character of the people we have here," Councilman William Bell said. "They didn't have to do what they're doing."

2005. All rights reserved.

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