There was anger in Houston on Thursday as hurricane evacuees reacted to news that FEMA will soon stop paying the hotel bills of an estimated 150,000 people who lost their homes.
“How can we go home? We don't have no money,” asked Phyllis Cartwright-Mathis, who evacuated from Beaumont, Texas, during Hurricane Rita. “What parent wants to see her child, 15 years old, stuck in a motel room for Thanksgiving?”
All this as the impact of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hotel deadline sinks in with one family who fled Hurricane Rita.
“You have to laugh to keep from crying,” says Cartwright-Mathis. “It's just that bad, it's just that bad.”
Joining the frustrated was Mayor Bill White of Houston, the city with the greatest number of hurricane evacuees.
“I am concerned that what they say is different than what they wrote in a directive,” White says.
In a news conference Thursday on the housing issue, FEMA offered no explanation of how it will implement the plan to get thousands out of hotels across the country in two weeks.
“Hotel and motel program is always temporary,” says Vice Adm. Thaddeus Allen, who directs FEMA's Gulf Coast efforts. “I don't think anybody would indicate that it is a permanent housing solution that someone is displaced from a house in New Orleans.”
While FEMA insists it won’t be throwing anyone out on the streets who's staying in one of these hotel rooms, it is standing by the deadline. The payments on the rooms will stop two weeks from now.
“We need to get them into a better temporary solution pending a longer-term housing solution,” says Allen. “That's always been the goal.”
It's Kenna and Ryan Pitre's goal, too. The New Orleans University students have been living in a Dallas hotel, and with the Dec. 1 deadline looming, they're not finding much on the rental market.
“We have to figure out where we're going to move to before then,” says Kenna. “We don't have that much time.”
With the clock running, the same is true in many cities with evacuees.