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Dallas is full, please come back another time

I’m not quite sure what to make of this story about the city of Dallas balking at giving temporary housing to some 40,000 special-needs people in the event they get evacuated from Houston during a hurricane.

Texas officials, haunted by last year’s images from New Orleans of poor and elderly citizens left behind in Hurricane Katrina’s wake, have formed a plan in which coastal cities would be paired with inland destinations that would house “special needs” evacuees, those without the means or ability to escape on their own.

At a recent meeting in Corsicana, an official with Gov. Rick Perry’s emergency management division asked North Texas officials to reserve shelter for as many as 40,000 such residents from Harris County.

But Kenny Shaw, director of the city of Dallas’ office of emergency management, told the Houston Chronicle that sheltering that many needy, disabled or elderly evacuees – and possibly their pets – would be a stretch.

“It would be a little bit of a chaotic situation if we got 40,000 people,” Shaw said. “We are not going to be able to house anywhere near a 40,000 special needs population.”

The state can’t make any city take special needs evacuees, meaning if “Big D” ultimately refuses to open shelters for them, they’ll have to be transported even farther away to wait out the storm.

[…]

Houston and Harris County opened facilities to tens of thousands of Louisiana residents after Hurricane Katrina. At the peak, Sept. 4, there were 27,100 people sheltered in the Reliant Park complex and the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The most sheltered at any given night in Dallas’ convention center, Reunion Arena and Dallas County’s old jail complex was 3,000, Shaw said. He said slightly fewer were housed in those three facilities during Hurricane Rita.

“Once we got to the 3,000 point, that was pretty much all we could do. We began distributing them to other cities in the Metroplex,” he said.

[…]
Robie Robinson, Dallas County’s director of security and emergency management, said he shares Shaw’s capacity concerns. Even with 16 counties to draw on, most of the resources are located in the four most populous: Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton, which have a combined population of 5 million.

“Forty thousand would be very, very tough to absorb,” Robinson said. “It’s fascinating. The challenges never end. Initially you have to get a grasp on what’s the worst case scenario.”

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller infuriated staffers in Gov. Rick Perry’s office last year when she complained of Dallas’ evacuation overload and struggle to find shelter for Katrina evacuees. At that time, Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt called Miller’s complaints “unbelievable” and “so much whining and nay-saying” in an e-mail she sent to the governor’s staff. But she’s not repeating those complaints this year.

“The fact of the matter is if a community says it can’t house more than a given number, there’s nothing you can do to force it,” she said.

Miller did not respond to a request for comment on the shelter issue Tuesday from the Chronicle.

I have to agree with Kathy Walt here – if Dallas says they can’t handle more than a set number of evacuees, I don’t know what you can do (short of waving money in front of them) to make them change their minds. I think they are perhaps being a little conservative in their estimate of what they can take on, and maybe part of the problem here is that “Dallas” makes up less than 40% of the Metroplex by population. Laura Miller and Kenny Shaw can’t dictate to Collin County, for example, and we all know how generous they are with their resources.

It makes sense to try and secure space for the people who will need the most assistance ahead of time. It seems to me, though, that if the Governor’s plan for this isn’t taking into account this kind of pushback from the cities he’s targeted as shelters for those folks, then his plan is fundamentally flawed. Maybe it’s time to wave some money around, assuming there’s anything left after the property tax cut stampede from the special session.

It’d be nice to get more of a Dallas perspective on this, but the Morning News just has an AP wire story that recapitulates the Chron reporting. I feel like there has to be a next move, though, what with tomorrow being Opening Day of hurricane season, so perhaps we’ll see a fuller response from the Capitol shortly.

In related news, SciGuy gets medieval on the “We’re all gonna die!!!” school of hurricane forecasting. Check it out.

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5 Comments

  1. Patrick says:

    And after the DMN named Houston the “Texan of the Year” for 2005 for the community’s efforts to assist with Katrina…….how very Dallas of them.

  2. John Tabor says:

    Remember Dallas is a small town and always will be

  3. Tim says:

    Can’t blame them. Dallas has clearly seen what has happened to Houston crime since Katrina.

    No good deed goes unpunished.

  4. Marie says:

    40,000 of Houston’s neediest and special needs citizens are going to be the very poor, the infirmed and elderly. Guess those people won’t spend too much money at whatever it is Dallasites do for fun up there.

  5. John says:

    Plus, we’d probably all be wearing non-designer clothes and driving the wrong cars. Can’t have that in Big D.