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 CNS Story:

GUSTAV-DISPLACED Sep-5-2008 (620 words) With photos posted Sept. 4 and to come. xxxn

Catholic Charities' pilot program aims to help hurricane victims

By Laura Deavers
Catholic News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) -- Catholic Charities USA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are joining in a new pilot program that aims to help hurricane victims receive federal and state assistance they need with less hassle and red tape.

If people cannot return to their homes after a disaster they need to find a place to live, a job and medical care, the same things a person arriving in the United States from another country faces, said Kim Burgo, senior director of Catholic Charities' disaster response office. She also noted that the maze of paperwork an individual must fill out to get assistance can be daunting.

With the new pilot program, one caseworker will be assigned to each family unit or person displaced by Hurricane Gustav, which hit Louisiana Sept. 1.

Burgo, who worked for 22 years at Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children before joining Catholic Charities, said her previous work gave her experience in natural, man-made and complex disaster situations. She gained on-the-ground experience of hurricane relief following Hurricane Mitch in Central American countries and she also worked in refugee camps in Kosovo.

Burgo and Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced the pilot program Sept. 3 while touring a facility at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge that had been set up to care for special-medical-needs patients before Hurricane Gustav.

The new program will be coordinated by Catholic Charities USA to help the thousands of people who have been displaced by Hurricane Gustav and will be done in collaboration with other agencies such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The caseworkers will provide ongoing support for those displaced by the storm, said Leavitt.

"Every life is individual, every life is unique," said Leavitt, adding that people need different things to bring their lives back together.

With damage assessments and the number of individuals displaced by the storm still coming in, Leavitt said information about the new program would be placed in shelters and other places where people have evacuated from the storm.

The federal government will pay the cost of the case managers and administration of the program. "The monies to pay for this were set aside by Congress years ago, but a program was never implemented to take advantage of them," said Carol Spruell, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the United Methodist Committee on Relief set up Katrina Aid Today, a similar collaboration among social service agencies to provide caseworkers to those displaced, said Todd Hamilton, acting director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, following the announcement. "This time it is Catholic Charities USA."

Leavitt said because of the enormity of the situation created by the thousands of people who will need assistance Catholic Charities will be collaborating with other organizations to provide the necessary number of caseworkers.

As displaced hurricane evacuees were returning to their homes, staff members and priests representing the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Catholic Charities were on hand, starting Sept. 5, at the Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans and the Jefferson Parish evacuee return site. An estimated 2 million people evacuated the city and were returning to the area by bus and train. From the city's main terminal they would be transported by bus to one of 17 drop-off points.

Catholic Charities staff members were on hand to provide information about available services in the community and counseling when needed and appropriate. Priests and deacons were available to provide pastoral care.


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