Daily Herald

Church asks evacuee to leave

Katrina survivor, three kids  staying in Palatine house

Posted Monday, July 24, 2006

A Palatine church that opened its doors last year to help a single, pregnant mother left homeless by Hurricane Katrina says it’s now time the woman find her own way.

Since late September, Keisha Moran and her children have been living rent-free in a house owned by St. Paul United Church of Christ.

Moran received notice from the church’s executive council last week that she and her three children need to be out by Aug. 31.

She says it’s too soon. Church officials say it’s time for her to go.

Her story raises the question of just long should the charity extend when it comes to helping evacuees from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

It’s a scenario being played out across the state, officials say, as the one-year anniversary of Katrina approaches and evacuees who moved to Illinois try to figure out what’s next.

The leader of the Palatine church that’s asking Moran to leave says it might just motivate her to move in a more stable direction.

“Perhaps there is a time now where she will take this opportunity and it will be a catalyst in her life,” said the Rev. Michelle McNamara, whose home is where Moran now resides.

The 23-year-old from Waveland, Miss., lives with her 5-year-old and 1-year-old daughters, along with the son born four months ago.

She was interviewed on “Oprah” shortly after the hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast. At that time, Moran was pregnant and living out of a tent in a Mississippi Kmart’s parking lot.

She and her then-boyfriend had evacuated their home, but never made it out of Waveland. They slept in the shopping center’s parking lot for 11 days before being brought to Palatine. The boyfriend initially came along, but has since gone back to Mississippi.

A friend of a church parishioner saw the Oprah show and asked if St. Paul’s would help. After the church agreed, the neighbor brought Moran and her children to the suburbs.

But shortly after Moran was settled, the woman who initially contacted the church disappeared and hasn’t kept up her promises to help pay for some of Moran’s living expenses, McNamara said. The pastor said she doesn’t know how to contact the woman or even know her last name.

At the time, there was never a date set as to how long Moran and her family would stay, Moran said.

“I was told that I was more than welcome to stay here as long as I wanted, but that after Dec. 31 of this year I would start paying some sort of rent,” she said. “It had yet to be worked out.”

But church officials have a different story. McNamara says a December deadline was never set and that the council decided last week that giving her more than a month’s notice was “above and beyond what is simply necessary.”

Moran and her children are among the more than 8,000 people who came to Illinois to escape the ravages of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to state officials.

A recent report shows more than 6,000 continue to live in Illinois, the majority in Cook County.

Up to 75 percent of current evacuees are expected to make Illinois home permanently, says Ron Carter, director of strategic planning for the state human services department.

Although the state has provided services to residents from the South who’ve relocated in Illinois, starting next month the last phase of a disaster relief plan is set to begin.

Thanks to $1.3 million in federal block grants, Illinois plans to roll out a program that will address issue of homelessness in the state for Katrina victims.

The purpose is to have staff meet with these individuals and develop a plan to transition the evacuee into an Illinois citizen or help them move to another area.

Carter says stories like Moran’s are becoming common.

“We’ve anticipated this,” he said. “We’ve heard it anecdotally from our counselors, and that is why we crafted our last phase of these efforts.”

The new program will help to stabilize families economically, physically and emotionally, he said.

For the past 10 months, Moran has called Palatine home and even has talked with a local school about enrolling her daughter in the fall.

The home where she lives is on Palatine Road, just 10 feet from the church. It’s one of two the church owns.

It’s usually used for the pastors, as part of their salary. For 10 years, McNamara had lived in the home, vacating it for renovation work well before Moran was invited to live there. She and another pastor had been sharing the church’s second home and still are.

In the letter Moran received from the church council, it states that renovation work now needs to continue on the house.

Right now Moran isn’t employed, although she did have a job for a while after arriving. Last spring Moran was enrolled in a few classes at Harper College thanks to financial aid, but isn’t planning to enroll in the fall.

In addition to helping her find a place to live, the church and community helped furnish the house, get clothes and a car for the family, and find local doctors to offer free medical service. Different fundraisers were also set for the family.

“I don’t want anyone to think that I am not grateful for what was done for me,” Moran said. “It’s just a total surprise to me, and it makes no sense why I am being asked to leave right now.”

She says there’s nowhere for her to go. Mississippi isn’t an option because things still aren’t rebuilt in her town.

The federal trailer that her mother and younger brother had been living in was recently burned down. Moran is still in the appeal process, trying to receive federal aid herself, she said.

McNamara says her church would love to still be helpful to the family. Just because they’re asking her to leave does not mean the relationship is severed.

“We responded out of nothing but sheer faith that God would provide,” she said. “Now, a year later we are being told that ‘You’re gracious offer is not enough,’ and that makes our hearts heavy.”