3/31/2006 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. 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."
Evacuees were involved -- as victims or suspects -- in 35 of the 212 deaths in that time period, Hurtt said. In January, Houston police arrested eight members of rival New Orleans gangs in the deaths of 11 fellow evacuees. Earlier this month, half of the 18 people arrested in an auto theft sweep were evacuees. Also about 21,000 students from Louisiana now attend southeastern Texas schools, including about 6,000 in Houston. Across the state, Louisiana children scored considerably worse than Texas youngsters on a state exam and thousands could be held back.
Just after the August hurricane, the Harris County Hospital District, the agency that runs the public hospitals and health clinics in Houston and surrounding Harris County, treated 15,000 evacuees in two weeks at the Astrodome, but now sees about 800 extra patients a month, said spokesman Bryan McLeod. The agency treats 1.2 million patients a year, so the number of evacuees is "not overwhelming" and is not delaying care for Houston residents, McLeod said.
Mayor Bill White said that most Houston residents are still proud of the city's response. "Everyone understands when you evacuate a major American city that some of those people will be those who committed a crime or have special needs," he said.