A New Co-Location Issue: Shelters and Schools

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By the city's latest count, there are more than 2,700 evacuees from Sandy staying in emergency shelters. Some of those shelters include City University of New York campuses and the Park Slope Armory, but a few are still in public schools even as students returned to class this week.

As of Thursday, about 750 evacuees were sleeping overnight in spaces in Brooklyn Technical High School, Hillcrest High School, Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, Susan E. Wagner High School and the George Washington Educational Campus.

Seth Diamond, the commissioner for the city's Department of Homeless Services, said the city is relying on schools to house evacuees because of their presence throughout the city. Schools also have a positive association, he said, which is important when the city is encouraging people to leave their homes in an emergency.

Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, agreed that using a school does make sense.

"It’s smaller, it’s got security, it’s got additional rooms that you can separate functions," he explained. "You can put places for children to congregate and play. You have other places for feeding and other places for distribution, supply and clothing so forth. So it’s more functional in that way."

Schools are also controlled by the city. But Redlener said the city needs to think about long-term plans for housing thousands of evacuees in the event of an even bigger disaster such as sports arenas or convention centers.

New Orleans stopped using arenas after Hurricane Katrina when images of hungry, frightened evacuees in the Superdome were broadcast worldwide. But other parts of Louisiana and Texas, where hurricanes are common, do use arenas in the short-term.

Longer term however, after a storm, they often use schools as shelters because they enable people to stay in their home communities. Karen DeSalvo, the health commissioner of New Orleans, said communities may use different facilities, depending on their populations and space constraints.

"Longer-term solution for sheltering is to find some place that’s high and dry and have power and water and sewer and for us, it’s also a place where we can store stuff," she said.

Beth Fertig and Yasmeen Khan discuss the issue of sheltering evacuees in school buildings with WNYC's Amy Eddings. Listen to the full segment below.

Hear a WNYC report on school buildings being used as shelters