Harvey evacuees get fired after finding shelter in Dallas

Evacuees who found shelter — and then jobs — in Dallas after fleeing Hurricane Harvey are again looking for work after getting fired this week.

“Can you believe they fired me? They fired everybody. Two days on the job,” Gerwayne Williams, 29, said, wiping tears off his cheeks.

The Beaumont native thought he’d hit a stroke of good luck on Wednesday when he landed a janitorial job at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, where he’s been sleeping on a cot since last week after fleeing floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey. It was also his second wedding anniversary.

That day, he posted a Facebook Live video to friends telling them he’d found a job and didn’t plan to return to his hometown, where he played keyboard in a church and worked construction.

But on Thursday, he was fired. He said he wanted to go back home. He didn’t have a plan.

Rocky Vaz, head of Dallas’ Office of Emergency Management, said 30 evacuees were hired for day jobs through one of the convention center’s vendors — Member’s Building Maintenance. But it created confusion about who was staying at the convention center as an evacuee and who was a worker, because the evacuees wore Member’s uniforms while on duty.

The city and Member’s agreed “it was not the right thing,” Vaz said.

“That was a confusion. We wanted to eliminate that,” he said. Workers were told they could not continue working at the convention center if they were living in the shelter.

Member’s could not be reached for comment.

If evacuees are still living in Dallas after the shelter closes, they can apply for jobs with Member’s, Vaz said.

It’s still unclear when Dallas will close its mega-shelter, which currently houses more than 2,600 evacuees in an air-conditioned garage. Vaz said the city could begin moving people out sometime next week.

Courtney Cheatteam, 21, also lost his job at the convention center.

But by Friday afternoon, Cheatteam had already found a new job loading packages into UPS trucks at a job fair for Hurricane Harvey evacuees. Cheatteam, also a Katrina evacuee, fled from Houston on a Greyhound bus with his wife and six kids before Harvey hit.

News of another job so quickly brought his wife, Tiasha Cheatteam, to tears.

“It’s a breath of fresh air. You just have to hear something better,” she said. “Sitting in the convention center, there’s no hope.”


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