putting up katrina refugees
September 2, 2005 10:20 PM   Subscribe

We have extra room in our house and like many others, we're thinking about taking in Katrina refugees.

Help us think this through, won't you? The situation is this: we are M&D and three kids 5,10,13. We have a third floor with a full bath and three bedrooms. (Our rooms are on the 2nd floor, where there's another 2 full baths, so we could give the 3rd floor over to someone completely.) Wife stays home with kids, I work outside the home. We could not comfortably support folks with anything but room and to some extent, meals (We would all share meals downstairs.) What do you see as the risks, and how to minimize them? How would you set this situation up as far as sharing a home? Would you reach out to your neighbors to help you help them get them back on their feet? (clothes, transportation, cash???) I know these are incredibly broad questions but I guess i'm just looking for people to riff on this question and help us explore the implications. What we're fairly sure about is that a single mom with young kids or an elderly couple or single would be the best fit. We live about 1200 miles from NO and would offer bus fare. We're comfortable with a commitment of one year max.
posted by luser to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You don't know me but I love you. May the good things you and your family are doing be returned to you tenfold.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:25 PM on September 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Moveon.org has site for people who are intrested in donating housing. The people need to contact you (I guess). I nave no idea how you would minimize the risk, but it's not like you can't refuse someone.
posted by delmoi at 10:59 PM on September 2, 2005

There was a thread on the hip_domestics Livejournal community about this. Some words of caution, as well as encouragement.

Bless you. Just... bless you.
posted by calistasm at 11:03 PM on September 2, 2005

Maybe you could ask friends/coworkers/neighbors if they have any loved ones or friends who were displaced. That way, you at least have something of a reference for your boarders, which should decrease your risks and make things more of an extended-family situation.

If that doesn't work, the MoveOn site looks like a good idea. Agree with their politics or not, I have to applaud this gesture, as I applaud yours. Best of luck with your generous offer.
posted by SuperNova at 11:08 PM on September 2, 2005

We're considering doing something similar; we live north of Tulsa and we have 60 acres with two barns. In one of the barns is a fully furnished studio apartment, with a small kitchen, full bath, telephone line, heat/air conditioning, and even satellite TV (we spend quite a bit of time there and like to be comfortable, but the apartment was there when we purchased the land). Even though it's inside a large barn, the apartment is clean like apartments should be - no bugs or critters.

It's not the Taj Mahal, but it's what we have, and if someone needs it for a while maybe we can share it with a young family. I feel so terrible seeing these people who have nothing but the clothes on their backs. My stomach hurts because of it.

We're in the 'thinking about it' stage as you seem to be, so we haven't listed with MoveOn's site yet. You raise some interesting ideas that we hadn't thought of, such as appealing to the community for a car, etc. If you'd like, contact me at the email address in my profile and let's exchange some ideas. Maybe we can figure this out together.

I just feel like I have to do something, you know? There are so many of them and my heart is breaking.
posted by lambchop1 at 11:26 PM on September 2, 2005

Wow. You are amazing, wonderful people.
posted by cmyk at 11:48 PM on September 2, 2005

My wife and I are providing housing for several families, but they are known to us or otherwise vouched for. (They work for one of her companies or are neighbors of an employee.) You will be taking in some people who are unknown to you, so you'll have some issues we don't. In addition, our guests still have jobs (they're going to help rebuild the facility where they worked) and won't be with us indefinitely.

Your first problem will be finding someone you can trust to share your home with. Even if you find the elderly couple or mom with kids, you will have to be concerned about their relatives and/or friends who come to visit. These people will be alone in a strange city and it will be hard to deny them contact with their loved ones.

The people you take in will be low on money and may have some trouble finding a job. They will not have their own transportation. Do you live somewhere convenient to public transportation and/or near medical facilities and job possibilities? If not, you may find yourself doing some extra driving. Maybe your neighbors would help out here.

Besides the room and meals, keep in mind that your electricity and water usage will be larger. Since you are decent enough to open your home, you will probably be uncomfortable if you don't provide your guests with occasional entertainment. Again, the neighbors could provide some of this by having your guests over for an occasional meal or party.

What is your insurance like? Do you have enough liability to protect you should something happen to a guest while they're in your home? Would your policy consider them to be guests if they are staying for an extended period? Talk to your agent about your exposure.

On the plus side, you will make some new friends. You will have seized the chance to make a positive difference in someone's life. Your children will learn a lesson about acting to improve a situation rather than simply complaining that noone is doing anything. And you should probably change your username to something more appropriate to your actions.
posted by joaquim at 12:17 AM on September 3, 2005

actually I changed it a while back, joaquim, but thanks anyway. And please hold the accolades, it's a long way between thought and expression, as lou reed nearly said.

The livejournal discussion raised some sobering points. I guess our #1 concern is the risk of opening our home and exposing my family to a bad person. I guess I'll try to do background checks if I can get drivers licenses and such.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:34 AM on September 3, 2005

Background checks sound very prudent and I'd certainly do that for any stranger using my premises for long-term residency. The zabasearch site has them, though it seems it's mostly for civil matters and I don't know if they check criminal backgrounds (which I think is the most important concern). Some state court systems let you search that stuff for free online. With those tools, you can weigh your level of comfort.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:04 AM on September 3, 2005

You may also want to see if there are going to be displaced people in your area for any other reason. We're equally far away [or even farther] but there will be some displaced folks up in Vermont atteanding law school with my boyfriend, it looks like [displaced from Loyola, going to VT Law School] and we are thinking about trying to host someone with us for the school year, or at least offer.

I've opened my doors to people in need often [usually in a "friend of a friend is moving to town needs a place for a few weeks" situation] and I've found that the most helpful thing in these situations is ground rules. Make sure you have clear understandings about how resources are used [share food or no? share phone or no? set times for morning showers or no? borrowing car ok or no? guests over ok or no? lending money ok or no?] and have a set time to go over other situations that might come up. Make sure you have a Plan B, both for you and the person living with you.

People who are displaced will have a lot of needs and, if they're not very resourceful may need your help getting back on their feet. My most difficult long term guests were ones with a) no specific goal and, as a result, no end date to their staying with me b) depressed and so had difficulty motivating themselves to do something different, spent a lot of time loafing around the house watching tv. Neither of these were too suprising or unmanageable, but it's important that if it's your house you can determine whether these scenarios are okay and, if they're not, what else you'd like to do.

If you have kids, they probably have household responsibilities and so rolling another person into that situation will probably be easier than if you just lived alone or with your partner. Make sure everyone pitches in. That said, they are not your kids, so find a way to interact with them as adults, even though you will be in charge of the household. If your guest goes to church, you may find that they are more than willing to pitch in and help your guest, or help you help your guest. It is also worth talking to local community aid organizations [in our location we have a group called Community Action which does sort of neighbor to neighbor work] to see what resources are available to help your lodger at least be able to cover basic necessities, involve themself with the community.

Generally the real issues with bringing strangers into your home is not the sort of ooggy-boogy concerns that they will harm you or steal from you, it's more that they will disrupt your life to some degree [I would often have friends over who had a hard time understanding my odd houseguests and me for providing a place for them to stay] and it's easy to be sort of a pushover and then realize weeks into it that it's causing you stress. Trying to be aware of potential problems when you get into it makes it easier to anticipate and not wind up regretting your decision.
posted by jessamyn at 7:10 AM on September 3, 2005

If you do have a single mom with young kids stay with you, would your wife be willing and/or able to take care of them when the mom's off looking for a job? Child care can be pricey, and your new housemate might not have the cash on hand to afford it initially.

Background checks shouldn't run more than $20 or $30, and you should definitely do one, as well as have them sign a standard lease agreement (even if it's month to month, you should have your legal business in order in case they turn out to not be as responsible as one would hope).

I suspect you'll have the most difficulty in all of this dealing with the logistics. Finding someone trustworthy, keeping in contact with them in an area with poor phone coverage and internet access, getting them the bus tickets, etc.
posted by cmonkey at 9:39 AM on September 3, 2005

Below is an email from a charity organization that is trustworthy - they normally help with small requests for short term assistance, such as medication or a car repair and they also investigate each request they recieve. If you are helping a Katrina victim or know of one who needs help, then please contact them.

In response to Hurricane Katrina, and thanks to your generosity, Modest Needs has launched a special initiative designed to ease the financial burden placed on those persons who have opened their homes to friends, family members, and others displaced by Katrina.

Through this unique initiative, Modest Needs will offer several types of assistance directly to such persons, including (but not limited to):

Assistance with the expenses incurred in temporarily lodging persons displaced by Katrina. This includes assistance to purchase such items as air mattresses, additional bedding, towels, toiletries, and the like; and
Assistance with the expenses incurred in temporarily caring for persons displaced by Katrina. This includes assistance to afford additional groceries, replacement clothing, increased utility costs and basic medical care not covered by insurance.

We'll also be working directly with the survivors of Hurricane Katrina as they come to us seeking assistance with miscellaneous expenses for which immediate funding is not available elsewhere – for example, help to afford the hotel room which is going to be their temporary home, and help to afford basic necessities like replacement clothing and food. You’ll find complete details on this initiative – and learn more about how you can help - at http://www.modestneeds.org/donation/hurricane

My very best,

Dr. Keith P. Taylor

President/Executive Director

Modest Needs Foundation


‘Small Change: A World of Difference’

Tel. 212.463.7042
posted by LadyBonita at 11:50 AM on September 3, 2005

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