Houston Groups Help Evacuees Find New Jobs

A three-day job fair in Houston attracts some of the many evacuees looking for income and a way to start over. Houston has absorbed tens of thousands of evacuees from flooding sparked by Hurricane Katrina. Non-profit agencies are helping the displaced to find work, and placement centers have been set up in the parking lot of the Astrodome and at the city's professional basketball arena.

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Houston has absorbed tens of thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, and non-profit groups there have begun finding jobs for the displaced. As NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, placement centers have been set up in the parking lot of the Astrodome and at the city's professional basketball arena.

WADE GOODWYN reporting:

Do you want to hear an amazing story of New Orleans survival? Look around the WorkSource job tent, and pick an evacuee.

Mr. RALPH STEWART (Hurricane Survivor): It was a disaster, but I mean, it came at us. Whoo, did it come! We had a lot of water. We lost everything we had.

GOODWYN: Ralph Stewart used to live in the Seventh Ward before Katrina. That Monday night, as water poured over the levees, Stewart saved himself, his sister and her two children. Then he and his neighbor saved everybody else on the block as an encore.

Mr. STEWART: My next-door neighbor had a boat, and I helped him to save other people that didn't have no way to get out, so we all--me and him worked together. We worked and worked till we got everybody out of there.

GOODWYN: Having proved himself stalwart and brave in crisis, Ralph Stewart is now looking for work.

Mr. STEWART: Anything, long as it's a job. Hotel job, whatever, I'm willing to work.

GOODWYN: Stewart worked in housekeeping at the Metairie Country Club, and he says a week out of work is long enough.

Mr. STEWART: I'm just starting. I did applications and stuff today. Told me to wait around and see what they can do.

GOODWYN: What do you think?

Mr. STEWART: Well, I might luck up and get something. I'm looking to get something. I'm ready to go back to work.

GOODWYN: And if he does get work--and the chances are good--Stewart says that even though he's native to New Orleans, he's in Houston to stay.

Mr. STEWART: I want to live out here. I don't want to go back to New Orleans. The way that storm hit, it's not going to feel the same.

GOODWYN: Stewart is inside a large white air-conditioned tent set up in the parking lot outside the Astrodome. It's been set up by the WorkSource, a federally funded non-profit that helps people find jobs. Judy Christian says their job bank spans the entire state of Texas.

Ms. JUDY CHRISTIAN (WorkSource): The Texas Medical Center laundry service had some non-skilled jobs, but, of course, you're having a lot of people come here who are teachers, people that are in all types of positions. And the WorkSource works with everybody.

(Soundbite of song "Brick House")

THE COMMODORES: (Singing) Oh, she's a brick house.

GOODWYN: But WorkSource is not the only job game in town. Inside the city's pro basketball arena, there is a remarkable scene. Along the outside edge of the wide hallways are tables staffed for public school registration. There are 10 temporary medical clinics. Doctors in white coats stroll around on break. The Houston Rockets have teamed up with a local TV station and the Memorial Herman Hospital System to provide an array of critical services, including jobs. Thirty-one-year-old Eric Washington Jr.(ph) used to have his own janitorial service. Now he's looking for $12 an hour.

Mr. ERIC WASHINGTON Jr. (Hurricane Survivor): I just want to be able to, you know, sustain myself. If I find something, you know, that's really good and is worth staying, then I'll stay. But for the time being, I don't want to sit around and wait for FEMA. I don't want to sit around and wait for unemployment. I want to get a job.

GOODWYN: This week, thousands of evacuees began their new life in Texas. Here in Houston, most seem hopeful. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

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