Effects of Katrina evacuees on Houston?

August 26, 2010 6:31:50 PM PDT
Tens of thousands of people came to Houston to escape Hurricane Katrina and a huge number decided to make Houston their permanent home. When Katrina broke the levees and the floodwaters dissolved the Crescent City, its people came here -- more than 150,000 of them, many staying in and relying upon the Astrodome for shelter; 60,000 Houstonians volunteered their help. And while some of the evacuees went home, eventually two out of every three stayed in Houston and are still here.

So what is the general perception of how Katrina ultimately affected Houston five years after it hit New Orleans?

"I think that what remains is probably a positive sense of what this city is capable of doing in terms of responding to human need," said Stephen Klineberg of Rice University.

Sociologist Klineberg has led the annual Houston Area Survey every year for the last 29 years.

Since 2006, he has tracked Katrina's sociological impact on Houston.

"There was deep ambivalence about all of these things we had done, but meanwhile growing concern about large numbers of people with tremendous demand," said Klineberg.

[KATRINA ANNIVERSARY: Look back at the storm that changed Louisiana]

He says the overwhelmingly negative feelings, amplified by news coverage of evacuee-related crime, has leveled off. There is much more of a mixed feeling now, which is what we found in the people with whom we spoke.

"The city may have helped them, in terms of providing jobs and filling jobs or whatever, but I am not sure it was vice versa," said Houston resident Jim Alexander.

"Honestly, I think it was a little bit of both, because we had people brought in who didn't really want to be here. But then also we want to be a giving city. We want to be able to help our neighbors in any way we can," said Houstonian Alisha Harrell.

"It gave a chance to see what Houston was really about, the strength of Houston. From what I could see, people who were not prone normally to give, they did," said Houston resident Ethel Henderson.

And so the impact of Katrina on the social consciousness of Houston is almost gone, with the economy, the energy industry, and the remnants of Hurricane Ike.

Those who chose to stay are now in the same figurative boat as those who were here pre-Katrina. At least, that's how the mayor sees it.

"If they are here, they are Houstonians. We don't track them. We don't treat them any differently. They are part of us," said Mayor Annise Parker.

Stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for complete coverage of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.


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