Football Provides Family Brief Escape

9-19-05 - For the first time since New Orleanian Rochelle Hart and her family fled Hurricane Katrina's wrath for shelter in Houston, she didn't stand in line to fill out seemingly endless forms for housing, financial aid or a job.

Sunday was about football, thanks to Houston Texans fans who donated 100 tickets for Katrina evacuees.

"It's just such a nice break," the 35-year-old mother of four said. Nearby, her two youngest sons, 2-year-old Calvin Jr. and 4-year-old Caleb, played with Robert Little, who sported a Houston Texans mascot costume at Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Her husband, 41-year-old Calvin Sr., and older sons, Christian, 14, and Devonte, 12, also attended the game.

The Hart family was among the dwindling population of Katrina evacuees at Reliant Arena, the last of Houston's mega-shelters still in operation.

They also were among 100 evacuees who received donated tickets for Sunday's game, said Megan Morris, fund-raising coordinator for the Houston Texans Foundation. She said the foundation contacted the American Red Cross and the Star of Hope shelters in Houston, each of which chose who would get tickets.

Rochelle Hart said she and her family tried to ride out Katrina at a downtown New Orleans Hilton hotel where her husband worked as a steward supervisor, but they managed to evacuate on their own as water started rising. They arrived in Houston nearly two weeks ago.

She said her husband hasn't been able to get a position at a Houston hotel for the same pay he earned at home, so he's still looking. In the meantime, she has enrolled her two older sons in school and is still trying to find adequate housing.

"It's been a little rough at times," she said. "You get frustrated. I have friends who have seen our house, and it's all full of mildew and everything is ruined. I think Houston will be our home for a while."

Officials expected remaining evacuees to find or be placed in other housing later this week. Initially, they had hoped to close the mega-shelters by Sunday.

According to the shelters' joint information center, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would move various disaster recovery services such as housing placement off-site Monday.

By Sunday morning, 1,499 evacuees remained at the arena, while 362 remained at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston for a total of 1,811 - down 326 from Saturday's count.

At their peak on Sept. 4, the three Reliant Park shelters - at the complex that includes Reliant Stadium - and the convention center housed 27,100 evacuees.