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Evacuees Criticize Dream Center

Those in the shelter say they have been asked to consent to drug tests and room searches. A pastor calls the charge 'almost too crazy to respond to.'

September 16, 2005|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

They expected to receive what they said they were promised: apartments, transportation, good jobs, money to survive until they were back on their feet.

But a handful of Hurricane Katrina evacuees living at the Dream Center, Los Angeles' largest shelter for evacuees, say some of those promises have not been kept.

The evacuees, who live in a facility for rehabilitating drug users, say that they have been asked to consent to random drug tests and room searches and that they face the loss of a $100 weekly allowance for violating rules. They also say the endless donations streaming to the center do not seem to reach them.

"You took me from disaster. Now you make it even worse," said Richard Perrin, a former resident of New Orleans' West Bank, who has lived at the Dream Center with his wife since early this month.

Dream Center officials were baffled by the allegations. They have done, they said, the best they could do.

"We're an open book," said David Hanley, a pastor at the center near Echo Park. "It's one of those silly things almost too crazy to respond to."

The Dream Center, a Christian ministry based at the former Queen of Angels Hospital, is providing shelter to more than 200 Hurricane Katrina evacuees. A group of six Dream Center workers, including volunteers, recruited evacuees.

"We told them, 'We'll feed you, house you and get you back on your feet,' " said volunteer Tom Elliott. "They've gotten a lot more than what was promised."

Each evacuee has been given room, board, clothing and $100 a week, plus access to job fairs, computers and telephones. Every relief agency, except the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has set up a branch on the Dream Center campus.

At a news conference Thursday in Leimert Park, some evacuees said the reality of life at the center is less golden than promised and less than the image presented in media coverage.

Perrin, who like others was flown from Louisiana, said recruiters in Donaldsonville, La., where he sought shelter, said they would help him find an apartment and a job on the docks. Instead, he said, he was offered $7-an-hour jobs through a Dream Center job fair.

"When you get a picture that's painted perfect, you expect that to be true," he said.

High on the list of complaints were practices that evacuees said made them feel as if they were prisoners or participants in a rehab program. Perrin carried a copy of the Dream Center hurricane relief evacuee relief shelter agreement that states: "I hereby voluntarily consent to all drug tests on myself and all contraband and weapons searches of my living quarters upon request."

Members of the public who want to donate directly to or interact with evacuees are not allowed to do so, some of the evacuees said.

"We're not in jail. We're human just like y'all," said Troy Greenup, 33. "We lost a lot.... I'm not trying to come off angry, but I'm hurting."

The evacuees were assisted by community residents, including longtime community activist Edna Aliewine of South Los Angeles, who heard word of the concerns and started organizing.

"Everybody's giving donations," she said, "but the donations are not going where they're supposed to go."

Some of the evacuees had made their concerns known to Dream Center officials before the news conference.

Hanley said church leaders responded to a list of demands from some hurricane survivors by adding cable television and stocking the kitchens on each floor of the Dream Center. He said he thought the complaints were from a minority of guests.

Thus far, the center has not conducted drug tests of evacuees, Hanley said.

Times staff writer William Lobdell contributed to this report.

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