TRAVIS
Alex Brandon  /  AP
Darryl Travis carries his belongings down Canal Street in New Orleans on Tuesday. Travis, evacuated from his home in the flooded Ninth Ward of New Orleans, was one of 90 hurricane victims forced to leave lodging in the Houston Crowne Plaza.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/7/2006 10:22:47 PM ET 2006-02-08T03:22:47

Occupants of more than 4,500 government-paid hotel rooms began checking out of their lodgings Tuesday as the Federal Emergency Management Agency began cutting off money to pay for their stays. In Louisiana, some of those people will come full circle and head off to shelters set up by the state.

A spokesman for the state's Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness confirmed Tuesday that 40 families of the 900 families slated to move out of Louisiana hotels Tuesday had registered to live at a Shreveport shelter set up by the state.

"We identified the fact that Louisiana citizens would be facing a night on the streets, and that is not acceptable," said public information officer Mark Smith.

The state may need to set up more shelters as successive waves of hotel-dwelling evacuees lose their eligibility for the federal program in coming weeks. Smith said the state was considering another shelter in Baton Rouge.

Across the nation, occupants of 20,000 rooms who were granted extensions by FEMA earlier will be leaving hotels in the next few weeks.

Under public pressure, the federal government has delayed winding down the program several times since fall and granted many extensions for individuals in the lodging program. The last of those will expire on Feb. 13 and March 1.

Louisiana had requested that FEMA extend the hotel program for evacuees until April, said Smith, but FEMA turned down the request this time.

He said the program would assign a case worker to each family to help them find more appropriate long-term housing, with the goal of moving them on within a month. The Shreveport shelter is located in a hotel that had gone out of business, Smith said.

FEMA: ‘We’ve bent over backward’
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco has complained that FEMA was pulling the plug on the hotel program before securing other housing.

But FEMA said it gave people every possible opportunity to request an extension.

“We’ve bent over backward to reach out. We’ve gone door-to-door to all of the 25,000 hotel rooms no fewer than six times. And there are individuals who have refused to come to the door, refused to answer. There are people who have run when they saw us coming — those are the ones that are now moving on,” said FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney.

FEMA has spent $522 million on the program. At its height, it housed 85,000 people in motels and hotels across the country.

FEMA is teaming up with health, social services and volunteer agencies to help victims find new homes or rebuild and get their lives back on track, said Libby Turner, head of FEMA’s transitional housing unit.

“Folks are trying to move on with their lives after a catastrophic disaster, and some are having more difficulty than others in doing that.”

In limbo in Houston
In Houston, temporary home to thousands of Katrina evacuees, some leaving the Crowne Plaza said they had found other housing. Several said they were now homeless.

Hauling everything he owned in a plastic garbage bag, Darryl Travis walked out of the chandeliered lobby of the Crowne Plaza, joining the exodus of Hurricane Katrina refugees evicted from their hotels across the country Tuesday.

Travis, 24, and his five childhood friends — all in their 20s — had been living on the floor of another evacuee’s hotel room, never having registered.

“All I got is a couple pairs of pants and some shirts. The pressure is on,” said Jonathan Gautier, 26, one of the six, who was also carrying a single plastic bag filled with clothes.

Marilyn Fountain, a spokeswoman for the Star of Hope, a Houston homeless shelter, said the shelter anticipates an influx of people needing a place to stay.

Moving to a trailer
Wheeling out her boxes of belongings, 20-year-old Katie Kinkella and sister, Jennifer, were heading back to their ruined house in heavily flooded St. Bernard Parish. The sisters had stayed first at the Marriott and later at the Crowne Plaza as they waited for FEMA to deliver a trailer. Then they waited some more for FEMA to hook up the electricity at the trailer.

“They just connected it yesterday,” Kinkella said as she loaded bags, boxes and suitcases into the back of a pickup on the curb outside the hotel.

In Houston, where 4,000 evacuees were staying in hotels, around 80 percent had received permission to extend their stays until at least next Monday. The remaining 20 percent either failed to contact FEMA or made other housing arrangements, said Frank Michel, a spokesman for Mayor Bill White.

“People need to begin to take responsibility for themselves,” Michel said.

Outside the Crowne Plaza, protesters held up signs that said: “No trailers. No eviction.”

Brittany Brown, 21, wept as she explained that although she had been given an extension, eviction was now looming next week. She applied for a trailer in October and, although she keeps calling, her trailer has yet to show up.

MSNBC.com's Kari Huus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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