Refugees find temporary shelter in Albuquerque

Staff and wire reports

ALBUQUERQUE — Hurricane refugee Lee Nions attended a job fair Thursday at the temporary shelter at Albuquerque’s Convention Center, but had a hard time finding work in landscaping because he doesn’t have a driver’s license.

But by mid-afternoon, the 30-year-old from New Orleans was headed to a job with a landscaping company and had applied for a driver’s license, thanks to help from Pam Chavez, a Red Cross volunteer.

Chavez, who also works as vice president for Environmental Systems, heard about Nions’ situation and offered him work on the spot.

“I was very impressed with his dedication to find work. He was really trying,” Chavez said.

Nions, who plans to live in Albuquerque, said finding employment was a relief — a silver lining in a situation that has been full of heartache.

“I’ve been through a lot in the past two weeks,” Nions said. “I just found out today that my girlfriend and my two kids aren’t going to move out here with me. They’re scared to move so far away. It’s just been one crushing blow after another. But I ain’t stopping. I’m ready for a new start.”

In Portales, officials aren’t expecting evacuees but are making preparations in any case.

Chuck Haman, Emergency Management Coordinator for Portales, said he will be gathering information on housing in Portales for the state Department of Public Safety’s office of emergency management. The Emergency Management Assistance Compact is working under the Department of Public Safety to help Hurricane Katrina Victims.

“I’m collecting information about individuals with housing in Portales,” Haman said. “(We’re seeking) those with the ability to house victims such as hotels, motels and houses who are willing to donate housing for six months to pass on to the state.”

According to Haman, the state of New Mexico received 253 evacuees, 193 of them arrived via airplane transportation. He said most of them stayed in shelters and homes in Albuquerque.

Haman said the city of Portales is on “stand down,” meaning that more evacuees aren’t expected, but the city is ready to provide help if needed. Haman said the state of New Mexico is not scheduled to receive another flight of evacuees until Sept. 14.

Haman said at this time the most important item they are needing for hurricane relief is money.

Diana Cordova of ENMU’s Multi-Cultural Affairs is helping organize the money-raising effort at ENMU. Cordova said cashiers have been working hard in gathering money for hurricane relief and the final money totals will be compiled by Tuesday. The deadline to donate is 5 p.m. on Monday.

In other developments:
• Sandia Pueblo Gov. Stuwart Paisano announced that his pueblo, located just north of Albuquerque, will donate $1 million to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief efforts. A news conference is planned Friday.

• The New Mexico Task Force 1 search and rescue team, along with nurses from Sandia Lovelace Sandia Health System, will return to New Mexico after conducting rescue work along the Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile on Thursday at the convention center, more than 30 local and national companies came to the center to offer immediate work to refugees.

Valorie Vigil, director of the city of Albuquerque’s Department of Family and Community Services, coordinated the job fair in conjunction with the New Mexico Department of Labor. Vigil said it seemed a logical next step to help the refugees find work.

“There are still (refugees) wandering around, waiting to get things taken care of. They are in a transitional phase now, from being in the shelter to placement in homes or apartments,” Vigil said.

Kim Herron-Singleton with the University of New Mexico’s Human Resource Service Center was at the job fair with applications for both temporary and permanent positions.

She said only two people filled out applications, but noted that most of the refugees she met are still occupied with trying to get in touch with relatives or getting services and reclaiming their lives.

“They’ve got a lot going on right now. Yes, employment is important to them, but for some the priority is getting their kids in school or finding health care,” Herron-Singleton said.

Mayor Martin Chavez said at a news conference that 95 companies have positions available for those looking of work. He added that more than 600 homes are available in the city to accept refugees and 17 homes will accept pets.

Chavez said host families will act as a support system for refugees — a very serious, long-term responsibility.

“They’re not Chia Pets. We screen host families very carefully,” Chavez said. “We want to do everything we can to expedite their return to normalcy.”

Pastor David Walker from Antioch Baptist Church said 16 of the 50 evacuees staying at the shelter were placed in apartments Thursday afternoon. The rest of the refugees should be housed by Saturday, he said.

Walker and the Albuquerque Minister’s Alliance Group, along with other faith-based organizations, have been working to ensure refugees’ emotional, spiritual and financial needs are being met.

“We’re adopting families and are here to assist them with every need that arises, whatever that might be,” Walker said.