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Evacuees struggle to find homes

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency was scheduled to begin curtailing its payment of hotel bills this week for storm victims across the nation - including those at the Radisson at JFK and the Westway Motor Inn in East Elmhurst - and while some have found apartments, others now face the prospect of being homeless for the second time in six months."This is the most degrading thing I have ever experienced," said Yolandis Turner, a minister from New Orleans who has been staying at the Radisson since September. Turner, speaking at rally on the steps outside City Hall Tuesday, said that dealing with FEMA has been a frustrating and arduous process. Turner said she found an apartment over two months ago but has been waiting since that time for FEMA to approve her rental assistance. Church leaders and activists working closely with the victims since they arrived in New York believe that FEMA must be spurred to action by the city and state government."The city has to step in. The state has to do more. This is a crying shame," said Rev. Donald Hudson, the president of the Meet the Need Network, which organized Tuesday's rally. "We will not let anyone go into the streets."A national deadline for FEMA to stop paying hotel bills was set for Feb. 7, but many victims who applied for authorization received an extension until Feb. 13. Some Katrina survivors at the rally said that they had also received extensions until March 1, but noted that these extensions were being considered on a "case-by-case basis.""The time has come to wind down the short term [housing] program," said Bruce Brodoff, a FEMA spokesman. "We're working closely with the people in the hotels to transition them [the victims] to longer term housing."Of the Katrina victims remaining in New York, about 25 families are housed at the Radisson and a similar number are staying at the Westway Motor Inn.Tony Pinto, general manager of the Radisson, could not be reached for comment.Renee Weinberg, general manager of the Westway, said that about half the storm victims who were at the hotel (47 families at its peak) left the hotel Tuesday to move into apartments. Weinberg said the remaining evacuees would not be evicted from the hotel when FEMA cuts off its funding on Monday."We wouldn't put anyone on the streets, we'd keep them here," Weinberg said.The atmosphere at the Radisson, however, has grown tense in recent weeks after the hotel management informed the victims that they were to vacate the premises on Jan. 30. The hotel, which was initially scheduled to begin a $ 7 million expansion on Jan. 3, eventually relented and granted an extension until Feb. 13.Hudson and Pastor James Pullings Jr., of Jamaica, have been working to secure some concessions from the hotel for the evacuees.Pullings and Hudson said the hotel offered to pay for plane or bus tickets for the victims. Instead, the pastors, who are also working with Charles King, a lawyer and candidate to replace Eliot Spitzer as state attorney general, suggested a $2,500 flat payment, which they said the victims to could use to find permanent housing. Negotiations were on-going as of presstime. Reach Reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 ext. 146.

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