Friday, March 31, 2006

Houston: Dear Evacuees, get out.

Nation: Welcome mat officially taken away.

HOUSTON -- Seven months after taking in about 200,000 Louisiana residents left homeless by Hurricane Katrina, Houstonians aren't feeling so hospitable anymore. Many people in the nation's fourth-largest city complain that the influx has led to more killings and gang violence, lines at health clinics and bus stops, and fights and greater overcrowding in the schools. Some of those claims are debatable, but the sentiment is real. "We still want to help them, but it's to the point where enough is enough," said Torah Whitaker, 25, of Missouri City, a Houston suburb. Houston received national acclaim for accepting more evacuees than any other U.S. city. It gave them apartments, houses and health care, and held job fairs for them. Celebrities visited schools and brought gifts for the youngsters. About 150,000 evacuees remain in the greater Houston area, which has more than 4 million people. While some plan to return to Louisiana, thousands have secured their own housing and jobs and plan to make Houston their home. A survey last month of 765 Houston-area residents by Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg found that three-fourths believed that helping the evacuees put a "considerable strain" on the community and two-thirds blamed evacuees for a surge in violent crime. Half said Houston would be worse off if evacuees stayed, while one-fourth said the city would be better off. The murder rate between the Katrina evacuees' arrival in September and last week was up nearly 32% from the same period a year ago, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said. He said some of that is attributable to evacuees, but added: "I don't mean to send the message that all Katrina evacuees are involved in drug dealing, gangs and violent offenses."
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