Thursday, April 20, 2006

NYT: Storm Evacuees Placing Strains on Texas Hosts

A quick pass-along from the New York Times via Drudge this morning. Excerpts:
To the long list of adjectives used to describe Texans since last summer's hurricanes -— munificent, intrepid, scrappy -— add one more: fed up.

Seven months after two powerful hurricanes blew through the Gulf Coast, elected officials, law enforcement agencies and many residents say Texas is nearing the end of its ability to play good neighbor without compensation.

Houston is straining along its municipal seams from the 150,000 new residents from New Orleans, officials say. Crime was already on the rise there before the hurricane, but the Houston police say that evacuees were victims or suspects in two-thirds of the 30 percent increase in murders since September. The schools are also struggling to educate thousands of new children.


Houston's relationship with its added population is subtle and at times ambivalent. Residents, atomized over a broad swath of land with few interneighborhood connections, seem at one level to be dedicated to helping their neighbors, and are quick to cite numerous examples of continued volunteerism and the improved lives of children who they say are getting a better education than they received in New Orleans.

But they are also keenly aware of spikes in crime, especially in Southwest Houston, where the majority of the poorest New Orleanians settled.

"The city of Houston bent over backwards for these people, and I am glad we did it," said Scott Wilson, 43, who lives in the Montrose section. "But now we are absorbing some of their problems."

Evacuees have been victims of or accused of committing 39 of the 235 murders in Houston since last September, said Houston's police chief, Harold Hurtt. In January alone, there was a 34 percent rise in felonies over the previous year in the city.

"I can't tell you what percentage of that group is evacuees," Chief Hurtt said. "But I am sure they are really represented in that group."

Chief Hurtt said that some of the gangs that once operated in New Orleans housing projects had relocated to Houston, a city plagued with its own gang problems.

In response, the city moved 100 officers working in city jails to high-crime areas, and greatly increased overtime, a tall order for a department that has lost 800 officers to retirement over the last two years.

More in the article about growing the police force, school issues ("the students from Louisiana were substantially behind the Texas kids"), forgotten Rita-damaged areas in East Texas, and federal reimbursement - plus a little controversy:

Not everyone is sympathetic to the needs of Texas, where oil refinery businesses continue to take in millions of dollars in profits monthly, even though state officials say they do not have enough workers because of a housing shortage. In testimony at a recent appropriations hearing, Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, said he did not believe Texans needed housing money.

"Texas, in the best role of traditional Judeo-Christian charity, provided benefits," Mr. Bond said. "I think it's time we get back to being a good neighbor and not a paid companion."

Senator Hutchison, who spoke next, was not amused.

You tell 'em, Kay Bailey! Let's take a look at how much federal disaster money went to Missouri last time the Mississippi went over its banks...


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