When Liz Belcher, information client services manager for Housing Assistance, was asked to help with the organization’s efforts to assist the Venezuelan migrants, it brought back a lot of memories for her family. Her mother, Allison Alewine, performed a similar role in 2005 when 200 survivors of Hurricane Katrina were airlifted from New Orleans to what was then called Otis Air Force Base.
“It was unreal. People were getting off of a plane at three in the morning and didn’t know where they were,” said Alewine. “These people were terrified after the horror they had been through.
“We quickly put together an excellent system of getting everybody through an intake process. I was really glad to be there, primarily because my voice was comforting, my Southern accent,” said Alewine, who was born and raised in South Carolina.
Alewine (then Allison Rice) coordinated placing the evacuees, many of them families, into housing, while other Housing Assistance staff volunteered in the dorms.
“The focus was to get them housed, but at the same time, we worked with them individually to help them deal with the shock of the enormous changes in their lives,” said Alewine.
“The wonderful thing was how the younger children were just fine as long as there were adults around who showed them love and caring.”
Belcher said the similarities between the two responses are “shocking in many ways, even the way the kids responded. Another thing that was very familiar was that people got cold very quickly and nobody had any warm clothing. We had deliveries of donations pretty much on a constant basis.”
Working to find housing for the migrants was “amazing and exhausting,” Belcher said.
“We heard from a woman who had a home on her property belonging to her mother. The mother is in assisted living now, so the house was available, and they were willing to let some of the folks live there.”
“A gentleman called from Provincetown, even before the ask went out, in the first week, saying he was just so upset about the way people were treating these people. He wanted to do something, he has two brothers and a cousin who are living with him for the next six months in his employee housing, which he’s not using because his restaurant is closed for the season.”
Alewine, who worked for Housing Assistance for more than 25 years, retiring in 2013 as vice president of operations in the Family Housing Services Department, said, “It makes me proud to know that Housing Assistance has a history of helping people at their greatest time of need.”