While millions of people are turning to the Web to get the latest information on the damage from Hurricane Katrina, thousands more are using the Web to reach out to those in need.
Message boards and Web sites are filling up with offers from homeowners who say they’re willing to take in families and individuals now homeless in the wake of Katrina. Officials estimate that hundreds of thousands of people are now without a home after the storm.
“Our family of five will take in up to four people, preferably a family,” read one posting from Southeastern Ohio on Nola.com, a Web site dedicated to New Orleans.
“I would like to open my home to a family with children. I am a kind, loving, Christian woman with a husband and children. I will even provide transportation to my home in York, S.C. God Bless you all. Please let me help you!” another message volunteered.
Many of the homeowners posting messages on Nola.com say they are willing to house people for two or three months while they rebuild their lives. Many also take into account schooling for young children, saying “we are just two blocks from a good school so your children can attend while you stay.”
From California to Rhode Island, there’s been no shortage of homeowners volunteering their houses at no cost to Katrina survivors. The problem, though, is that it’s been difficult to connect those offers with the people who are stranded in New Orleans and now parts of Texas where they were taken to shelters this week.
While thousands of people have offered their homes, few have reported successfully matching up with those in need and getting them out of the shelters.
A group of strangers who met on a Nola.com message board have joined forces to try to organize a system of transporting people from the devastated areas and matching them with the homeowners who want to help.
The volunteers are located all over the country, according to Jason Jones, who is part of the organization effort. “None of us knew each other before last night,” Jones said Thursday.
He said people had offered to help with documenting who will do what and keep track of where they are taking evacuees so they can return a list to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In addition, they have groups in Dallas and Houston who say they will go into the shelters to find people who want to leave.
“If we can get one group going, then we’ll know we can do it. If we can just get one out there then it can be done,” said Jones, who lives in Kansas City, Mo.
Jones’ group this morning launched a Web site, KatrinaConvoyofHope.com, providing names and contact information of people who can donate buses, caravans, their houses and their time to go pick people up from where they are stranded.
So far, the group is making some progress with an effort in Minnesota. Hundreds of residents there have offered their homes to families and individuals and many more want to help by sending vital supplies, such as bottled water, clothes and sanitary items, Jones said.
The site provides information for people who want to donate their bus or van for one 1,200-mile roundtrip, money, goods or their homes.
The group is focusing on moving evacuees who want to leave the shelters to the people who want to take them in. They have no official endorsement from the American Red Cross or FEMA, Jones said. An American Red Cross spokeswoman said of the grassroots efforts, “We are not participating in that and we don’t have any comment – that’s not something we are part of.”
Jones said he’s been asked whether the group has a plan for transporting people back to New Orleans when they the city is reopened. “Our thought is let’s first get them out and get them some place settled.” As far as sending them back two or three months from now, “We don’t have an answer for that right now,” he said.
In addition to the group calling themselves Katrina Convoy of Hope, a few other sources are available online to try to connect refugees with homeowners offering a place to stay.
HurricaneHousing.org has a service where people can search for available volunteer homes within a specified mile radius of New Orleans and other afflicted cities. Homeowners also can post their homes for others to find.
Also, a group called Operation: Share Your Home has a Web site at www.shareyourhome.org for accepting volunteer applications and cash donations. The group formed early this week. Several attempts to contact the organization by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful.
Share Your Home is supported by the Liquid Ventures family of companies, according to the Web site, and is made up of a group of concerned Louisiana professionals who have joined together to provide an immediate response to the tragedy.
“Having identified the lack of communication as the biggest hurdle in finding homes for evacuees, our goal is to serve as a bridge of information between those who can help offer housing to those who need it so desperately,” the site reads.
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