Chicago Coordinates Aid Efforts for Katrina Evacuees

In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley works with churches and other city officials to make room for survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

Thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina are fleeing to other states. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports on hurricane survivors who are seeking shelter and hope in Chicago.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

Chicago and other northern cities have long been home to African-American families that traveled from the South to the North, but unlike the two great migrations of the 20th century where wars spurred blacks to look for jobs and opportunity, it is a 21st century natural disaster forcing this latest population shift. Gerald and Robin Ingrim(ph) fled from New Orleans along with their children and are staying with relatives in a Chicago suburb.

Mr. GERALD INGRIM (Evacuee): Approximately nine of us came here on my wife's side of the family. You have another 12 that migrated towards Houston, Texas. All of them lost their house.

Mrs. ROBIN INGRIM (Evacuee): All of them.

CORLEY: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has led an all-out push to coordinate efforts to bring some relief to people leaving the hurricane-ravaged areas of the South.

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago, Illinois): You just can't give them cots and a blanket. That's over with. It's not going to work.

CORLEY: So the city has worked with churches which have gathered food and clothing and sent buses to bring people back to Chicago. At Tried Stone Baptist Church this week, congregant Vicky Riback urged others to help.

Ms. VICKY RIBACK (Congregant, Tried Stone Baptist Church): These people who are coming here, if you have extra bedrooms, just areas in your house--one person, they're offering mobile homes.

CORLEY: Many of the survivors have made it to Chicago on their own. The past two nights, FEMA has flown in a number of Katrina victims to Illinois with the state providing housing in the Chicago area as well as downstate. Chicago has also set up a one-stop assistance center. City workers greet people as soon as they enter a local recreation center, taking down names and other pertinent information.

Unidentified Woman: We have a station for children only right over here, that they'll take them and watch them while you go through the process.

CORLEY: The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, city departments and other agencies are all present. This is where people can find out about jobs, housing, get a good meal and take a shower. Monique Bond works for the city's emergency services agency.

Ms. MONIQUE BOND (Emergency Services Agency): What we're seeing is that people just need the basic essentials. They really need clothing. They really need, you know, a school for their children. They need transportation. They need just the basics.

CORLEY: Sitting in one of hundreds of folding chairs in the center's large gymnasium, Maureen Thomas(ph) waves at her husband and mother-in-law. They're from New Orleans, and like many of the people here, they are staying with relatives. Thomas says they've come to find out what services were available and to pick up T-shirts and toiletries.

Ms. MAUREEN THOMAS (Evacuee): We've lost an immense amount of material things. However, we have our lives and we will weather this storm.

CORLEY: Eileen Upton(ph) sat in a chair eating a sandwich. She left Chicago six years ago to live in New Orleans. She's not sure if her home in the city's Warehouse District was destroyed, but she says she won't return. Upton came to the center to get help finding a job. She wants to rent an apartment that will allow her to keep her small dog.

Ms. EILEEN UPTON (Evacuee): And I'm thankful for everything I've received here. I mean, they gave me a--the Red Cross gave me money, you know, so I could purchase clothing. I'm just after whatever they can offer me right now, get my job and I'll be on my way and clear my head 'cause I'm holding all this inside because I can't break down.

CORLEY: City officials say they've processed nearly 500 people at the center. They expect many more as the Chicago area becomes a temporary or even permanent home to those displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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