Evacuees leave church shelters|[9/17/05]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 17, 2005

Vicksburg’s Red Cross chapter has assisted 2,000, doled out $1M

Evacuees in the area are moving on with their lives with emergency money in hand. By Friday evening, both church shelters had moved evacuees out and into apartments, houses or with sponsor families.

The Vicksburg chapter of the Red Cross has assisted more than 2,000 evacuees, shelling out more than $1 million in emergency funds since the family assistance program began a week ago, said emergency services director for the local Red Cross Janice Sawyer.

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“It’s amazing that we have served that many,” she said.

Funds were granted to evacuees from the hardest hit areas and amounts varied based on the size of the family. Sawyer said a few people even started coming to Vicksburg from other areas, like Natchez, Baton Rouge and La Plaz to avoid long lines. After the family assistance service moved from the local chapter building, where services began Sept. 9, to Vicksburg High School and again to the Jackson Street Community Center, Red Cross officials were able to provide a more efficient service.

“The lines went well. (Friday) went smoothly,” Sawyer said. “We had three people from the national office join the two that were already there and they took numbers. It was as smooth as it could be.”

Applications are no longer being taken for family assistance, but evacuees in Warren, Sharkey, Issaquena and Claiborne counties who applied for family assistance with the Red Cross Wednesday will be able to pick up checks from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday at the Jackson Street Community Center. All new applications must be made by calling the national hotline at 1-800-975-7585.

Local churches began the transition process for evacuees about 10 days after evacuees arrived in Warren County shelters. Members of the Vicksburg Community Transitional Team, a group of church clergy and United Way volunteers, are continuing to help those displaced by the hurricane.

Stevie Duncan, pastor of Living Word Baptist Church and assistant chaplain for the Red Cross, said evacuees are responding to the program that was spawned by local churches. Evacuees have steadily moved out of the shelters and into more permanent housing. The convention center, which reported 52 evacuees Friday, is the only shelter still open. Mayor Laurence Leyens said earlier in the week that the convention center will close Sept. 30.

David Baldwin, shelter manager at First Baptist Church, one of the five original Red Cross shelters that was set to close this morning, said he believes about 30 percent of the evacuees from his shelter will stay in the community. The evacuee population at First Baptist peaked at 263 since it opened Aug. 28, and he thinks about 125 of them will call Vicksburg home.

Bowmar Baptist Church, another Red Cross shelter, had all evacuees moved out by Friday morning.

While an influx of evacuees from church shelters into the convention center was expected, no additional evacuees signed in.

“Everyone is being placed,” Sawyer said. “They will all be adopted.”

In other developments: