The Katrina Evacuees Who Wouldn't Leave

Earlier this year, The Federal Emergency Management Agency stopped paying for hotel rooms for many of hurricane Katrina’s 40,000 evacuees. FEMA spent over $500 million to house people in the wake of the disaster, but that wasn’t enough for some who are just getting settled in.

August 29th will mark the one-year anniversary of the day hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans with devastating effect, leaving many dead, thousands homeless, and Geraldo Rivera doing the best Moses impression I’ve seen since Charlton Heston’s performance in The Ten Commandments. 

Suffice to say that more than a few evacuees found their lives living in certain hotels to be of a higher quality than they were back in New Orleans, and now, some don’t want to leave. I believe that the legal profession often refers to this as “sequestered jury syndrome.”

New York Magazine features a story about some such people, for, in The Big Apple, there is something called a “squatters rights law” which is making it difficult to set the former evacuees/future homeless on their way.

The squatters rights law says that hotels can’t kick people out if they’ve occupied a room for more than 30 days, even if the rooms are no longer being paid for (this should be renamed the “discourage hotels from being charitable in the first place law”). 

One of those people who has found his free accommodations much to his liking is named Theon Johnson.

FEMA flew Johnson into NYC for free and, on Super Bowl Sunday, put him up at the Holiday Inn at JFK Airport. He’s still there:

On April 21, the hotel served Johnson with three notices of occupancy termination, saying that it would begin court proceedings if he wasn’t out by May 9. He wasn’t, so it did. If the court boots him, Johnson could end up in one of the city’s homeless shelters. He’s been broke for over a month now. fema sent him $9,000 in housing aid, but he spent it all on booze, cigarettes, some clothes, and food—partying, mostly. “I spent my money just the way I wanted, and I think [fema] should send me some more,” he says.

True, one can’t blame the man for not wanting to return to New Orleans and its mayor who was recently re-elected, which was like giving Captain Hazelwood another shot at tanker driving, but this is one example of the perils of handing out free money, and a microcosmic case-study in what happens when you sprinkle fertilizer on the farm of dependence.

The New York Mag story continues on to say, get this, that attorneys with the Legal Aid Society have been negotiating a buyout deal for Johnson and the remaining evacuees, and expect a settlement, probably in the neighborhood of $1,200, very soon.

A buyout deal? Buying out of what? Something he’s not paying for? How typically government. You just know that somewhere the following sentence has been uttered in a government office building: “If we’d just send a check for $500,000 to each person who is currently on welfare, we could end welfare as we know it!”

So Mr. Johnson gets another check, drawn on your account and signed by your free-wheeling Uncle Sam, that I’m oh so certain will be used responsibly just to get him to leave a room that taxpayers are footing the bill for in the first place?

Homelessness is a tragedy, and the main reason it is such is that the people most deserving of it are the government bureaucrats who are paid to perpetuate the problem.

The situation with the evacuees in New York is a nice precedent to set, isn’t it? The sad part is that you can bet your FEMA gift card that the government, not to mention the Legal Aid Society, think they’re being as charitable as Mother Teresa in their approach to these evacuees who won’t leave. If Mother Teresa were in the U.S. government, she’d not have lived among the poor; she’d have moved them into the Four Seasons and sent you the bill. 

I don’t know how much money was spent to house Theon Johnson, but I’m fairly certain it was enough to pay to send him to a trade school so he could learn to be self-sufficient. If he wouldn’t take the offer, so be it.

This will never happen, of course, because everybody knows that, in a truly self-reliant society that encourages and rewards personal responsibility, the only people in the unemployment line would be former homeless advocates, attorneys for same, and half of government.


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Author: Doug Powers

Doug Powers is a writer, editor and commentator covering news of the day from a conservative viewpoint with an occasional shot of irreverence and a chaser of snark. Townhall Media writer/editor. alum. Bowling novice. Long-suffering Detroit Lions fan. Contact: