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Economic Uncertainty Haunts Hurricane Harvey Evacuees

Martin do Nascimento
A motor home destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in Rockport.

It’s been more than three months since Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast. For the areas hit the hardest, recovery seems far away. And for many of those who lost homes and jobs in the storm, they continue to deal with economic uncertainty.

From outside, the WoodSprings Suites in Corpus Christi looks like your average extended stay hotel. Like many others in the area, after Hurricane Harvey, this four story, modern looking building became a temporary shelter for newly homeless evacuees like Roshanda Anderson.

“I’ve been here damn near a month. But I’ve been staying with somebody else because they wouldn’t help me,” Anderson said.

“They” would be the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Anderson and her wife Ashley Madder were turned down for temporary housing by FEMA so they are crashing here  — sharing a room with a friend, who did get a voucher. Before Harvey, the couple lived in a trailer in Rockport that was destroyed by the 135 mile an hour winds.

“It sucks because I have nowhere to go,” she said.

The rooms at WoodSprings are not big. They’re Spartan and equipped with a little refrigerator, microwave and a two burner stove.

Anderson said cooking is difficult since there are no pots or utensils. And eating takeout every day is too expensive. Anderson is also unemployed. Madder was working as a secretary, but the storm destroyed that business. There’s no job to go back to.

“We’re both struggling right now. I hope I get help,” Anderson said.

Like many who live on the economic fringe, before Harvey, Anderson and her family managed by depending on each other. They shared what they had, using the economy of scale to dilute the costs of rent, meals, transportation and utilities. But now the Anderson family is part of the Harvey diaspora and “home” is the WoodSprings Suites.

Credit Martin do Nascimento / KUT
The remains of Bay Wash Laundromat in Rockport following Hurricane Harvey.

It’s admittedly a no frills hotel. There’s no pool, no lobby area and no complimentary breakfast or coffee. Reviewers on Google complain about a “funky smell.” 

“It gets to you after a while, man,” James Benningfield said.

Unlike Anderson and her wife, he was able to get a FEMA voucher for his stay. Currently, over 45,000 Harvey evacuees in Texas are staying in hotels paid for by FEMA, which is costing the agency about $3 million dollars a day. But what happens next, is up in the air.

“I was getting extensions here and then all of a sudden FEMA stopped extending. They only were supposed to do it for so long,” Benningfield said.

Credit David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
One of the hotels in Corpus Christie that serves as the home for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

  Benningfield and all other FEMA voucher recipients now have a cutoff date of Jan. 16.

“I’m going to be homeless after that basically. I’ll be in a tent with my dog on the beach or something. I don’t know,” he said.

The dog’s an 8-year old pit bull named Monster. He’s pulling hard on a chain Benningfield grips with tattoo covered hands. Before Harvey, they lived at Benningfield’s mother’s house in Rockport. He said it’s now "just shrapnel."

“Two-by-fours everywhere — flooded underneath — the whole floor looks like waffles. Basically all there is is a toilet,” he said.

And Benningfield said his entire future depends on him finding a job.

“I’m almost out of money. I lost my job because of the storm. I’ve been trying to get a job around here but there’s nobody really hiring,” Benningfield said.

Mike Fewox came to the hotel five days earlier. He’s visually impaired and disabled. When Harvey hit he was sent to a hotel in Weslaco, roughly 150 miles away.

“It was packed here," he said. "I couldn’t find any housing here in Corpus.”

His home in Port Aransas was destroyed and he’s having trouble getting back on his feet. But today, he hit a snag. The hotel clerk said his voucher is no longer working.

“They have me approved until the end of this month," he said. "That’s what they’re saying — supposedly, We’ll find that out. They told me differently today though.”

To get the housing glitch worked out, he’s got to find a ride to the FEMA Recovery Center, which is about five miles away. It’s a big white tent set up at a Corpus shopping mall.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing right this minute,” Fewox said.

Credit David Martin Davies
A tent city outside of Fulton is where victims of Hurricane Harvey still reside.

Roshanda Anderson and her wife are also trying to go to the FEMA Center.

“I was supposed to go to the tent today, get a ride and see what they going to be doing to me,” Anderson said.

And what Anderson said she wants to do is reunite with her family and friends.

“Everybody is scattered all over everywhere right now. Basically, all over Texas,” she said.

While Rockport is where Anderson calls home — home for now is a FEMA voucher hotel with a funky smell.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org or on Twitter @DavidMartinDavi

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi