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Project TASK Closes Shop

Area hurricane victims are on their own

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A local coalition formed to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees will close shop Dec. 2, leaving more than 1,400 households to navigate Charlotte on their own.

"For what this office intended to do, which was provide for the transition of a large number of folks coming into a community all at once, it's been more than successful, I think," said Chris Wolf, an advocate for the homeless who managed Project TASK (Transitional Assistance for Survivors of Katrina).

Since Oct. 3, volunteers and social service workers at the coalition's office have juggled requests for food, housing and other resources. They also instructed callers and walk-ins at their 401 East Second Street office on how to help evacuees.

Michael Andrews, a Project TASK member from Lutheran Family Services, said the coalition didn't ask to extend its funding, which came as a 60-day, $25,000 grant from Mecklenburg County Commissioners. "It was always sold as a short-term project," Andrews said.

The office's closure leaves questions hanging, the most obvious being: How will evacuees ultimately fare in their new city? "You can't go through a devastating situation like a hurricane and not come away with some pretty serious stress," said Wolf. "You can't uproot people from their safety nets without people suffering as a result."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will provide housing assistance for up to 18 months for some people. "The real tragedy is going to come when those new entitlements run out and people haven't become stable yet," Wolf said.

Andrews wonders how strained social services networks will juggle evacuees' needs with those of the city's longtime poor residents. "We're going to take those stretched resources and we're going to add to their burden," Wolf said. "There's no way that can't have a fairly significant impact."

Countless community groups will continue to aid evacuees, including Temple Beth El, Unity Fellowship Church and Grubb Properties, which have placed 11 families in homes for a six-month commitment, said project organizer Gail Leverson.

Jim Price, spokesman for the Salvation Army, said his organization moved its last resident out of the hotel-turned-Army headquarters on Clanton Road November 12. At one time, the Army housed nearly 200 evacuees. Project TASK will continue its work in South Carolina, where it has four help centers and one mobile unit.

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