Every night since Hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast, Fredia Rainey has been glued to the tragic TV reports on the rising death toll and the thousands of people left homeless by the storm.
Finally, the worsening situation reached a tipping point in her mind. The least she could do, she figured, is make available a spare bedroom in her west Georgia home.
“I have space and people need help. That’s just it,” said Rainey, who is offering the bedroom for $1. “I can’t just keep crying when I can reach out and help people.”
Across the nation, people like Rainey are offering up their homes as temporary shelters to the storm’s refugees. On the Web site craigslist.org, hundreds of people — some from as far as Oregon and New Hampshire — are eagerly offering free or extremely cheap room and board for victims, even knowing those strangers may stay for months.
“We’ve got all this room. Why not host a family, a couple, someone who needs help?” asked Linda Donewald, an empty-nester who is offering her Mesa, Ariz., home to refugees along with space for a pet cat or dog. “Even if it’s 110 degrees, I’m sitting here on dry land. And these people have nothing.”
The problem is that many of the victims can’t see the listings. Most don’t have computers or Internet access in the hotels, motels and emergency shelters where they’ve holed up across the South.
In Valdosta, Ga., five volunteers have offered up their homes, but city officials said there is no way — beyond a local media campaign — for victims to know about it. In the meantime, the city’s hotel rooms are packed with refugees, and Red Cross volunteers are readying long-term shelters in the area.
FEMA applauds effort
Federal officials nonetheless applaud the efforts as a way for the average citizen to help in the wake of a disaster.
“That kind of system, individual to individual, is a great way to go,” said David Passey, a spokesman with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “There are a lot of great Americans out there.”
Some of the more fortunate victims with Internet access were promptly able to find housing. Just 20 minutes after Brenda Moreshead posted an online message offering three bedrooms and a finished basement in her suburban Atlanta home to storm victims, she got a phone call from two sisters from New Orleans who were at a motel in Arkansas.
Moreshead expects them to arrive in Atlanta by Thursday. Her family, friends and co-workers have donated clothes, groceries and money to defray the costs of housing the sisters. She also hopes to help one of them land a job at a nearby preschool.
The women speak Spanish, and Moreshead’s husband has been looking for someone to teach the language to the couple’s 2-year-old son.
“I’ve been very blessed in my life,” Moreshead said. “What goes around comes around.”