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Dallas launches first full day of aid to Katrina evacuees in Reunion Arena

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas launches first full day of aid to Katrina evacuees in Reunion Arena

Dallas, TX –

Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: It was like a game day crowd, when Reunion Arena still hosted basketball and hockey games. But now, the people here are either delivering aid or, like New Orleanian Gregor Young, receiving some.

Gregor Young, Hurricane Katrina refugee: Our home's completely destroyed. We're homeless but have our lives and our cats so we're very blessed that we had a place to go.

Zeeble: Reunion Arena is that place for hundreds of Katrina victims in Dallas. Governor Rick Perry flew in to visit refugees and the many volunteers.

Texas Governor Rick Perry: It's what's kind of great about America...

Zeeble: Then Perry met shelter manager Sandy Hendricks.

Perry: What is it you need? What's the number one thing you...?

Sandy Hendricks, shelter manager: Money (laugh). It really is. I would say money because this'll go on for a while and we've got a lot of people to take care of.

Zeeble: Helping with some of that care is volunteer Cynthia Morrison, speaking with a refugee at Reunion's Red Cross check-in desk.

Cynthia Morrison, Hurricane Katrina refugee and Reunion volunteer: What we need you to do is fill each one of these out. One for your mom, one for you, because you're in a separate household than your mom. I'm a homemaker. Just watching on TV, it touched my heart and I said, "Lord, I've got to go."

Zeeble: Carla McLanahan said the same thing.

Carla McLanahan, volunteer: I got here this morning, and thought there would be an information booth. We got tables and chairs, we just took charge. There was no one to direct the volunteers for the displaced evacuees. Since then we've collected information on jobs, apartments, housing availability, and we've just taken it upon ourselves. These are all people just of good will, citizens wanting to help.

Zeeble: Also in the volunteer mix: The Salvation Army, Parkland Hospital and Children's Medical Center Dallas, and WIC - Women, Infants and Children. The city of Dallas is distributing ID bands to registered shelter residents, who'll then have access to free DART passes and, down the road, jobs. City Manager Mary Suhm says the wrist bands will also help maintain security and a kind of solitude in the Reunion Shelter.

Mary Suhm, Dallas City Manager: We have to remember this is people's home. They require some privacy in those homes to maintain their dignity.

Zeeble: And whatever that privacy or other services may cost, Governor Perry says don't worry, especially after a conversation he had with ranking U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.

U.S. Senator Rick Santorum: And Rick said, "The money will be there. Take care of those people; the money will be there from the federal government."

Zeeble: Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher added that ultimately, these hurricane victims won't be the only ones to benefit.

Margaret Keliher, Dallas County Judge: It's not just a money issue. If the people stay and can get housing here then they'll contribute to the tax base and it'll be a win-win for everybody.

Zeeble: Late Thursday, Governor Perry issued a Texas emergency declaration to help handle the incoming hurricane victims, and he asked the federal government for more financial help. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are now each gearing up to accept as many as 25,000 Katrina refugees. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.

90.1's Marla Crockett and Catherine Cuellar helped with this story.

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