Birmingham Field Office Reaches Out to Evacuees

[Photo: Birmingham Field Office Director Cindy Yarbrough with evacuee]
Birmingham Field Office Director Cindy Yarbrough with evacuee she assisted in finding housing.

Lillie Petterson had a long journey from her home in New Orleans to a Red Cross sponsored shelter in Birmingham, AL. She had been evacuated from her home in New Orleans the day before Katrina hit, leaving with neighbors who offered her a ride as the reality of the potential devastation of the storm sank in to die hard residents who had been hesitant to flee the city.

She remembers the evacuation as a stressful time, with Police barking orders in bull horns, and long nearly stagnant lines of cars trying to work their way across the network of bridges that represented the only way out to safety. For three days she stayed in a hotel in Moody, AL, until her funds were exhausted, and then after contacting a local church was escorted to the Red Cross Shelter at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center.

Ms. Petterson lived in a home in New Orleans with the rent subsidized through HUD's Section 8 Program. About the only belongings that made it to the shelter with her were a few clothes and paperwork neatly folded in a plastic storage bag that documented her participation in the Section 8 Program in New Orleans. These meager belongings, and a rising sense of frustration were about all she had left in the world.

On the afternoon that HUD staff visited the shelter to provide one on one assistance, Ms. Petterson was standing less than ten feet away from an information table set up by the Birmingham Housing Authority, but did not realize that the Section 8 paperwork that she had held on to throughout her ordeal would enable her to receive immediate housing assistance if she just presented it to them.

About this time Birmingham Field Office Director, Cindy Yarbrough approached Ms. Petterson and asked if she could be of assistance. After listening to Ms. Petterson for a moment and looking at her paperwork she assured her that there was help available and personally walked her over to the Birmingham Housing Authority table and helped her fill out the paperwork necessary to transfer her Section 8 Voucher. Once assured that she would be issued a voucher immediately that she could use to find housing on the local market Ms. Petterson's mood quickly improved. Ms. Yarbrough didn't stop there though. In the spirit of going the extra mile she discussed local housing options with Ms. Petterson, suggested some communities she might consider and also told her about Birmingham's HOPE VI development nearby that is currently taking applications. Ms. Petterson visited the HOPE VI site and said that as soon as she saw it she felt like she had found her new home. Her application for housing there as well as at another property that she visited are currently being processed, and soon she will have a new home in a new community.

Birmingham Field Office staff continue to make outreach visits to the Civic Center Shelter and to operate an informational table at the one stop center set up by the City of Birmingham to assist evacuees on a daily basis. We see and hear the frustration of the evacuees and there is not much we can do to change a lot of what we encounter. But our hearts are warmed by stories like Ms. Petterson's, and we realize in the spirit of the story of the old man throwing starfish back into the sea, that while we cannot wave a magic wand and make things better for everyone, that we have made a difference for those like Ms. Petterson that we were able to help.

Content Archived: July 11, 2011