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Special needs Katrina evacuees receive unique care in Texas

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Amid the evacuee crisis created by Hurricane Katrina, Baptist Child & Family Services in San Antonio has taken on a special responsibility.

“At the request of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, BCFS organized and has staffed the only special needs shelters in the state,” Kevin Dinnin, BCFS president, said Sept. 8.

The special needs population includes children and adults with some physical and or mental disability or issues — excluding severe cases who need hospitalization and those who would be a danger to themselves or others, Dinnin said.

“We now are caring for approximately 400 people with a wide range of challenges at our six locations, and all [are] traumatized by everything they have gone through,” Dinnin said.

“Our shelters at the BCFS campus, Lackland Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, Bellaire Baptist Church and Churchill Baptist Church are about at maximum capacity. We have space at Tri-Point and will use this for both the short term and for the long term.

TriPoint, a former Albertson’s supermarket now owned by Trinity Baptist Church, received 40 people Tuesday although the conversion of the facility was just getting underway. Eventually the facility will house 200-300 people.

Since Tuesday, volunteers, mostly from three churches partnering with BCFS to operate the shelter -– Trinity Baptist, Community Bible Church and Oak Hills Church — have been scrambling to upgrade the facility to meet the long-term needs of handicapped clients.

“We couldn’t wait for the phone lines and food services to be ready because our other shelters were maxed out,” Dinnin said. “But the volunteers just kept going and are making it work — San Antonio has a lot to admire in folks like this.”

Dinnin said BCFS and its partners “will continue to care for the people most in need of out assistance. Our staff and all the wonderful folks who have been helping have had their hearts broken over and over since Friday as they have listened to the stories of the children, women and men who have come to us.

“By some definitions it is ‘inconvenient’ to take on this task,” Dinnin said, “but the opportunity to provide hands-on help for people we all are so concerned about.”

Additionally, BCFS decided it would be important for family members of qualifying individuals to stay with them. Currently, for example, more than 50 members of 73-year-old Charles Green’s family, for example, are reuniting at the Churchill shelter.

“Most of our staff and many of the volunteers averaged three to five hours of sleep each night Friday through Monday when we placed over 300 people,” Dinnin said.

Nancy Gibbons, BCFS chief operating officer, said that the evacuees at the shelters include “people who are blind, wheelchair-bound, enfeebled by age or mentally handicapped. Imagine the additional stress they are under in what is already an unbelievably stressful situation.”

Baptist Child & Family Services, on the Web at www.bcfs.net, is a San Antonio-based human service organization with locations and programs throughout Texas as well as Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Programs managed or offered through BCFS include residential services and emergency shelters for abused or neglected children, residential services for emotionally disturbed children, assisted living services and vocational training for special needs adults, mental health services for children and families, foster care, pre-natal and post-partum health services, and international humanitarian aid for children living in impoverished conditions in developing countries.

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