Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Hosting Hurricane Evacuees

My in-laws are in town after fleeing Hurricane Ike. Two weeks ago, they evacuated for Gustav, luckily a short evacuation without any actual damage. Three years ago they stayed off and on for six weeks during Rita and the recovery thereof. In sum, Ben and I have just a wee bit of experience with hosting evacuees. Here's what we've learned that might be useful to others hosting evacuees from Ike.

  1. Give them their own space. While you might get a good visit in, this isn't a social visit. It may drag on longer than any of you expect. The best way to avoid questions like "Can I do this? Where can I set up my computer?" or the "Why is all this stuff here?" sorts of issues, designate some parts of the house for their use for the duration. In our house, it's the front of the house -- the guest bedroom, the formal dining room for an office, and the smaller sitting area. They can spread out as much as they want there, without asking permission. We occasionally "visit" those parts of the house, but for the most part we leave them alone. The flip side -- when my father-in-law's newspapers start encroaching on my living room, a glower or a reminder from my mother-in-law sends them back to their half of the house. Along the same lines, I've cleared a shelf in the bathroom for their toiletries so they don't have to carry them back and forth. If you have a lot of evacuees, you might consider dedicating a shelf of the refrigerator for their snacks.
  2. Food. Since this isn't a social visit, you don't need to go out of your way to impress your guests. Your guests, however, are a bit out of sorts, stressed out, and needing the comfort of routine. We find sitting down to dinner is a a nice gracious bit of normality in a definitely-not-normal experience. Now's the time to stock up with preprepared food from HEB or Costco, or serve sandwiches or canned soups. Nothing fancy, but comforting, easy to prepare foods. Don't forget to give your house guests tasks to help get dinner on the table -- either take turns with preparation, or give someone the salad and someone else the job of setting the table or getting drinks. Remember -- this may last longer than you expected, so don't take on all the work yourself.
  3. Drinks. They're stressed because their home may be blown away or underwater. You're stressed because you have unexpected houseguests. I recommend wine -- our prosaic tastes lead us to a big box of riesling in the fridge, but anything with alcohol would do.
  4. Parking. Consider parking your cars on the street and giving your guests the garage or driveway. They probably have most of their prized posessions in their cars, and securing them better or making it easier to fetch things in is a small way to lighten their load.
  5. Naps. Your guests may have been up all night packing or driving, which in addition to the stress of a hurricane and evacuation is exhausting. A "quiet time" -- with naps encouraged -- will put everyone in a better mood and better able to handle anything that comes.
  6. Get out. Take advantage of additional help around the house for built in babysitters, or plan dinner out with friends in town to give both of you time away from each other. This is especially true once you get past the first 3 or so days.
  7. Communications and information. Make sure your guests have access to whatever information sources they need to keep up with the weather and it's aftermath. For us, it's internet access -- and sending them down the street to Waterloo ice house when TV is needed. Also realize that they'll be on the phone a lot, checking on and commiserating with their neighbors and friends.
One of my evacuees read over this and gave it her nod of approval from the evacuee instead of host perspective. I'm sure other people have more ideas, if you want to chime in in the comments.

Sunday, September 07, 2008