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Can you help?
Katrina's victims are desperate for shelter



Afshin Pishevar
September 1, 2005

It's been reported that hundreds or perhaps thousands have lost their lives to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and surrounding areas. A tragic situation with new fears more will die as deadly water borne illnesses brew around survivors wading through the filthy waters that now fill their beloved neighborhoods. Their homes lost, no shelter, weary from the storm there seems to be no relief in sight for those who survived Katrina's blow. Is there any hope for a warm meal, shower and a place to recover from the tragedy anytime soon?

Online message boards like Craigslist and are flooded with offers from citizens to hurricane victims to use their bedrooms in their homes, vacation homes, buildings, jobs and money, it's clear that so many people across the U.S. are ready and willing to help their neighbors in need. It's a grass roots effort in the making. This is a real disaster that tugs on your heart and opens it freely.

A worthy effort but sadly as I have seen so many times in the past as a network news consumer reporter these kind souls could be lending themselves as prey for scam artists who might peruse these sites looking for an opportunity for free housing or simply to rob someone. These scammers can sound charming on the phone, provide references (who are really their accomplice in the next state), and can even show up at the door with plenty of legitimate looking id that is nothing but fake.

Selling themselves as legitimate victims only to take advantage of a well meaning family. To see for yourself just do one internet google search using the terms "hurricane" and "scam" and the results you'll get are plenty of links and reminders of how kind people have been taken advantage of by a select few who look upon tragedy as a means to implement a crime.

As a citizen, I have thought hard about how we might be able to address this problem. I've been emailing people all over the place from realtor associations and churches to the Red Cross. Unfortunately, I keep getting the same responses ranging from no responses to "I too want to donate a room in my house but am not sure how to do it."

Thus, I believe that it is imperative, that if you know anyone, a local or state politician, influential business owner or better yet state or national figures and organizations you should contact them. Including key people at the Red Cross, FEMA and other legitimate organizations, that can spearhead putting together an organized plan, a website etc. to match families who want to provide housing and shelter. Perhaps initally people can be bussed to a local govt owned building where local officials and volunteers can match host families. Housing agreements need to be drawn up on the spot and signed and liability issues addressed.

This project is especially important because in the real world taking a stranger into your home is no simple matter. In fact it could be dangerous. Your personalities may clash, they might wreck your car, or worse they may stay forever. I am not up to date or even know if there are any "how to evict a refugee from your upstairs bedroom because they have stayed over three years and don't want to get a job" laws.

Aside from hurricane Katrina Landlord/tenant issues are a huge problem in the U.S. 

I say these things not to be cynical or harsh after all it's sad that we even have to think this way. Open your hearts and your doors, but protect yourself and be smart.There is an IMMEDIATE need for organized housing and now is the time that you can call your contacts and get something going that is organized will benefit everyone.

I do want to share with you, that I will be opening my doors to a family I found through a church in New Orleans. And my sister-in-law, Bita and her husband Alvin are now housing her husband's entire 11+ member family who evacuated their homes in the New Orleans area.

The family has lost their history and everything they owned. Now they are facing the reality of saying goodbye to their past, trying to adapt to a new city, get a job, clothes and a place of their own in a city they never dreamed would be their future. Even through all the family has gone through, and will go through in the months ahead, but after watching the continuous media coverage on the devastation Katrina has caused, it's hard to admit they're actually one of the lucky ones.

Afshin P. Pishevar, Esq. Law Offices of A.P. Pishevar & Associates, Rockville, Maryland. See

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