10/11/2013 12:08 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Care for 2011 native Manitoba flood evacuees is in limbo as cost mounts to $86M

WINNIPEG - Four months after Ottawa asked the Red Cross to look into caring for about 2,000 flood evacuees in Manitoba, responsibility for their care is in a state of limbo and the bill for their food and shelter is hovering around $86 million.

The federal government asked the charitable organization to conduct a needs-assessment of the long-term evacuees in June, with a view to having it assume responsibility for their care, a process which was expected to be complete by August.

Four months later, that needs-assessment has been completed, but no one will say what it says or if the Red Cross is taking over.

Celine St-Louis, manager of public affairs for the Red Cross, declined an interview request and referred all questions to the federal government, since "it's their process."

A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada said Friday they were "working on a response."

The Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) has been overseeing aid for the evacuees since they were forced from their homes by the 2011 spring flood. The association said in the summer it no longer wants that responsibility.

The association's handling of the long-term evacuation has come under fire, with reports that the number of evacuees grew well after the waters receded. One hotel owner complained that the association failed to pay millions of dollars in bills and a former employee of the association publicly accused it of squandering money on unnecessary overtime for relatives.

The organization is now being audited by Ottawa.

A spokesman for MANFF, who refused to give his name, said he couldn't talk about the transition and referred questions to the Red Cross.

"We're just sitting here waiting too," he said. "We're just waiting for them to take over."

Back in June, Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said the Red Cross was "better suited" to take over from the aboriginal firefighters' association.

"They're a reputable agency, a non-governmental organization that does a lot of work with people in similar situations," he said at the time. "We anticipate that they'll do a good job."

Robinson said the federal government wanted the transition to take effect by the end of the summer.

A spokesman for Robinson said he couldn't talk about the transition since the federal government is responsible for managing natural disasters on reserves.

In the meantime, the cost of caring for the long-term evacuees continues to rise by $1.5 million a month. The tab has grown to roughly $86 million.

The evacuees are scattered around Winnipeg and the province, living in hotels and rental accommodation while officials search for permanent homes.

At least one First Nation, Lake St. Martin, has been declared virtually uninhabitable and officials have been working to find a new home for the reserve.

Aboriginal leaders, including Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, have said the constant turmoil is taking its toll. They say students have missed out on school and are being exposed to drugs, alcohol and gangs while residents are disconnected from each other and their traditional way of life.