Last week a person who understands the Dallas rental housing market called Central Dallas Ministries to request our advice.
"How do we get word out to area churches that the needs of Katrina evacuees now living in Dallas are far from over?" he asked.
"The early emergency funding is almost gone for these families. During the next 30 to 90 days, the evictions will begin. Lots of families will need continuing assistance. How do we get the word out? What can we do to be prepared?" he continued, somewhat frantically.
Our friend's concerns are very real. His idea about local churches stepping up to this community challenge is laudable, as well as unrealistic.
Consider his congregation's current commitment to these new neighbors from New Orleans. His group "adopted" 275 families. That is an amazing commitment!
Assuming that these families can find housing with utilities for $500 per month (an extremely conservative estimate of the actual costs), the monthly housing bill for the group will amount to $137,500.00.
Assuming further that some of these families have landed jobs that pay them something toward their own livelihood, we might estimate that this particular church group might not need to come up with the entire amount of the housing costs. If the church was asked to cover only 25% of these costs, the bill would be $34,375 monthly.
Of course, these estimates and projections do not address the costs associated with food, clothing, medical care, transportation, child care or education.
While it is true that a number of local churches responded well and quickly, most have not established in-depth relationships with these new neighbors. No doubt, hundreds, if not thousands, of these new Dallasites will be on their own when the financial crunch sets in.
Two conclusions seem clear to me.
First, community-based organizations, such as churches and non-profits like Central Dallas Ministries, need to take whatever steps they can to "gear up" for the coming post-hurricane storm that is on the way. As we have been saying all along, the initial surge of expressed need will settle in and swell the numbers of people in need of assistance over the coming months and years.
Second, everyone needs to realize that communities like Dallas will need help from Washington and Austin. Our community can administer whatever funds are made available. But, more funding will be required for months to come.
Some of these funds should be deployed creatively in the form of public work programs that could contribute to those communities that need to be rebuilt or to the new, relocation communities that need not only additional units of affordable housing, but many other community services and improved public infrastructures as well.
The challenge is of national proportions. Will the nation be up to it?
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