George V. Reilly

Katrina Evacuees: Work Parties and Scaling Back

Shifting boxes

We’ve made some progress on getting our house ready to take in some Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

On Labor Day, Emma and I thoroughly cleaned out the garage in the alley, then put everything back much more ef­fi­cient­ly, so that we would have somewhere to store all of the stuff that was in our basement.

On Thursday, Emma made contact with Roy, a doorman at her chi­ro­prac­tor’s and a native of New Orleans. Roy and his other family members in the Seattle area are looking to bring up about 20 of their extended family. Roy was very keen to learn that we were offering space. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, Emma forgot to get contact in­for­ma­tion from Roy, although she left her card with him, and we have not been able to reach him since, despite leaving messages at his workplace. He was supposed to call her on Monday, but didn’t. We’ll try to reach him again tomorrow. If we don’t hear from him soon, we’ll look elsewhere.

On Sunday, half a dozen of our friends came over and did a ton of work in clearing out our basement. Literally on the order of a ton of shelving, boxes, and other im­ped­i­men­tia was moved out of our basement, through the back yard, and into the garage. We thank Delf, Dale, Ernest, Mary, Ariana, and Ray for their hours of help, and Lyndol and Frank who dropped by with a batch of cookies.

Earlier today, our friend Barb came by and spent a few hours helping us empty out the spare bedroom. That room is just about ready to go. In­ci­den­tal­ly, Barb told me the other day that Alaska Airlines are currently offering one-way fares from Dallas to Seattle for as little as $89, so that’s a likely avenue for bringing people up from the Gulf Coast.

We hope to see several of our friends back on Saturday and Sunday for more work parties.

Scaling back

We’ve thought through what we hope to achieve and what we can reasonably achieve, and we’re scaling our plans back. It’s better to set a more modest goal and do it well, than to set an ambitious goal and flounder badly.

We still intend to offer the spare bedroom, which is fairly com­fort­able, for up to a year. But we’re going to be doing much less with the basement.

We arranged for a few con­trac­tors come in and make bids on what it would cost to convert the large room in the basement into two bedrooms. This includes cutting two egress windows (as fire escapes), leveling the floor, repaneling the walls, framing a dividing wall, fixing the drop ceiling, adding doors, and so on. The cheapest bid was $18,000!

Instead, we now plan to make much more modest changes to the basement: cut egress holes, install cheap windows, cover the unleveled floor with carpet, repair the damaged paneling on the wall, drape some cloths for privacy in the doorways, and get some beds from somewhere.

We intend to make the basement available just for a few months. It won’t be as com­fort­able as we had originally hoped, but it will be an im­prove­ment on sleeping on a cot in the middle of the Astrodome.

I had other concerns too, apart from the upfront cost of renovating half of the basement. Even if we did most of the work ourselves, with help from friends, how timely would we be? It’s several weeks of part-time work and re­al­is­ti­cal­ly, we can’t hope to get a large amount of volunteer work to see a full project through. In the long term moreover, creating two nice bedrooms is a waste of effort, as we have very different plans for the basement.

I also have concerns about taking on half-a-dozen people for up to a year. Going from a childless couple in sole occupancy of our house to an eight-person household completely changes the dynamic. I don’t want to feel like a stranger in my own home. Having two extra people for a year with a few more for a few months is more emo­tion­al­ly manageable.

The ongoing cost of running the household is also a concern. My contract at Microsoft ended last week, but I’ve got four interviews lined up, so I expect to be back at work shortly. However, Emma just quit her job to start her own business, so we’re going to be losing money on that for quite a while.

In short, I want to do right by the evacuees, but I also have to do right by us.

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