I had the opportunity yesterday (thanks to Melissa Noriega) to get a tour of the evacuee shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center. I met with Terence Fontaine, who is on Mayor White's Executive Staff as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and who is serving as Site Manager for the GRB shelter along with Rick Noriega. Talking to him made it easy to see why the place is running as smoothly as it is. You put good people in charge, you get good results.
We talked quite a bit about getting people from the shelter into more permanent housing. Like the Dome, the GRB was never supposed to be for the long term - the original idea was to have it wound down by this weekend, but as this Chron story says, they're not quite ready for that yet.
Slated to close Saturday, the four biggest shelters will remain open at least into next week because placing about 4,100 remaining Katrina evacuees is taking officials longer than anticipated.
The placement process has slowed down because not enough basic furniture can be found for their apartments, and quarters for several hundred special needs evacuees have been difficult to find, said Frank Michel, spokesman for Mayor Bill White.
And unlike some of the evacuees who already have moved on from the shelters, some of those remaining were poor before Katrina struck and lack the wherewithal to help pay for establishing new households, Michel said Wednesday.
Shelter closings "will unfold when they unfold. People won't be kicked onto the street. We are moving so fast that the furniture suppliers can't keep up with us," he said.
On Wednesday morning, 4,158 evacuees remained at Reliant Park and George R. Brown Convention Center, down 665 from the day before.
The shelters' population was expected to drop another 500-700 by the end of the day Wednesday, said Coast Guard Lt. Joe Leonard, incident commander at Reliant Park.
If things go as expected, hundreds of evacuees will be placed daily over the next few days, and the area's biggest shelters could close early next week, Michel said.