In Alabama, Storms Leave A Scramble For Housing

May 13, 2011

By , The New York Times

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In the tornado-torn rural stretches and cities of the South, the scope and size of a newly homeless population are beginning to sink in.

There are as yet no solid estimates of the number of people who need places to live, although it surely will be more than 10,000, federal and state emergency officials say. And many of them are poor, working class or elderly — those most at risk of becoming permanently homeless.

“It’s that middle group that was fragile, perhaps living paycheck to paycheck, who have now lost their homes and their jobs,” said Kim Burgo, vice president for disaster operations for Catholic Charities USA, which is working to feed and shelter victims.

Of particular concern are older people in the rural communities, where a third of the population is 65 or older and resources are slim.

“These are folks who have put their whole heart and soul into their homes,” Ms. Burgo said. “They may or may not have insurance. What do they do? They might be living with their son or daughter now, but how long is that going to last?”

In Tuscaloosa, the largest urban area hit, the battle looks a little different. It is a scramble for apartments that do not exist and a wait for checks from the government. And everywhere, it is a growing test of patience.

At a Red Cross Shelter, Niki and Courtney Eberhart have awakened in a sea of a hundred cots filled with strangers for 16 days now.

They roust their two teenage children for school, then start looking at apartments in anticipation of a Federal Emergency Management Agency check they think will be about $3,500.

“We’re finding stuff we like, but three bedrooms for $1,200? That’s ridiculous,” said Mrs. Eberhart, 40. “I can’t afford that.”

Shirley Baker’s mother and reluctantly gracious stepfather took her in after the April tornadoes destroyed the Tuscaloosa basement apartment she shared with her granddaughter. But no one in the house is thrilled at the prospect of a long-term stay.

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