Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Katrina victim, Catholic Charities to faceoff in court today

Catholic Charities and Tina Zlotnick, the tenant the organization thinks overstayed her welcome at the former Sacred Heart of Mary rectory, will be in court this morning so a judge can determine if she should be evicted.

Zlotnick lost everything during Hurricane Katrina, and Catholic Charities, a division of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, moved her back to New York state, where she lived before she moved to New Orleans to be close to family.

After the storm hit and the levee broke, she survived on her porch roof for nearly six days as rescue boats passed her by because she would not leave behind her two dogs.

At first she stayed with her son's girlfriend at Griswold Heights but she could not keep her dogs there, so in November 2005, Catholic Charities put her up at the Crest Hill Suites on Washington Avenue in Albany.

This was after she refused to move into the Sacred Heart rectory where she would have had to share the living space with others.

Last October, when the rectory was vacant, they moved her from the hotel to the rectory rent free with the caveat that she move into her own apartment by November. So far, that has not happened, she said Sunday, because it is difficult to find a decent, clean apartment within her limited budget.

The 49-year-old gets $600 a month in Social Security Insurance and is looking to spend $400 a month for rent. The apartment must also accept her dogs.

"They have only found three apartments in the almost two years since I have been with them, and the last one was so dirty and in such a state of disrepair, I said, 'There is no way,'" she said.

Another option was to move to Glens Falls and act as a caretaker at the home of an elderly woman, but she said that was too far away from her family. She said she did offer to the pay the diocese rent and utilities, but she said they refused. The only thing she pays for is cable.

Her attorney, John Aretakis, a longtime critic of the Albany Diocese, said his argument this morning will be that Zlotnick's story and the fact the diocese highlighted her in a story in its own publication, The Evangelist.

In the story, she urged people to donate to Catholic Charities and Aretakis said it was a service she provided in lieu of rent.

"The contract was, we will put you in a safe place to live if you let us use your name and story to raise money," Aretakis said. "It is a sad situation. It is unfortunate. Basically she is homeless if they get her out of there."

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard did receive a subpoena, but it is unclear whether he will testify.

Aretakis is also suing the diocese in federal court on behalf of Zlotnick.

Zlotnick said she is grateful for the help Catholic Charities gave to her and is sorry to have to take them to court, but she wants them to follow through with their promises of finding her a place to live.

"At the beginning they treated me as the star of the moment. Everyone wanted to help me," she said. "They spoke about what they could do, and when it turned out they could not do the things they guaranteed me, over time, I think they got frustrated because all the great things they promised were not happening."

A representative for the diocese could not be reached for comment Sunday night.

The eviction proceeding is expected to begin this morning at 10 in Watervliet City Court in front of Judge Thomas Lamb.

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