Workers cleaning up after Ike face housing problem

October 4, 2008 3:43:11 PM PDT
Housing has become a problem in Houston for many of the thousands of workers from around the country who have come to help with the massive cleanup effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. ROAD TO RECOVERY: How you can help | School closings | Person locator | Important phone numbers | Assistance from FEMA | Filing a claim | Latest power numbers

While some workers are well-equipped veterans of past disaster cleanups who are employed by firms hired to remove debris, others are first-timers who came on their own, hoping to find any work.

Many of the workers complain that lodging in the Houston area is scarce, as motels, hotels, established RV parks and even camping areas in state parks are full, the Houston Chronicle reported Saturday.

Carmen Martinez, the office manager for Stephen F. Austin State Park west of Houston, said the park's 40 spaces for recreational vehicles are taken by Federal Emergency Management Agency workers and other construction employees.

Troy O'Quinn, who came from Orlando, Florida, is paying $600 a month to park a small trailer in a vacant lot behind a west Houston warehouse complex that has been transformed into a makeshift RV park.

O'Quinn and three friends share a bathroom with nearly a dozen other hurricane cleanup workers from three states. A car salesman opened the makeshift RV park in the last two weeks after he mowed a vacant lot, rented a Port-a-Potty and provided an extension cord for power.

"I wish there was a better place, but you take what you can get," said O'Quinn, the owner of an Orlando landscaping company. "They should set up parks for trailers. I would have anticipated FEMA would do something like that. But we're left to fend for ourselves and live like animals."

Erika Lopez, a spokeswoman for FEMA in Houston, said contractors are not the agency's responsibility.

The makeshift RV park where O'Quinn is staying was set up by Nick Mullas, a 40-year-old car salesman, who said he leased two small patches of land at the rear of a storage complex to help out-of town workers with no place to stay.

"It's just absolutely ridiculous that our fantastic government, and all these guys making millions a year, can't put up a place for the little guys who come from across the country," Mullas said. Some of the workers said Mullas' RV park is fine.

"For $600 a month, it's not bad. We got a shower, a bathroom -- it works for me," said Ben Bojadzijev, 27, from Florida. "As long as I can take a shower, I'm OK."

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