Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why FEMA trailers are no good

From the SunHerald (via RedOrbit):
"It is time to start thinking about the thousands of people still living in FEMA trailers as internally displaced persons and get them out of temporary housing now, according to a recent study by the International Medical Corps.

Their plight is not unlike the nearly 25 million internally displaced people worldwide and in many cases is worse, said Dr. Lynn Lawry, director of evidence-based research at IMC, which conducted the study last year."

And later:

"Some of the study's findings:

--More than half of the respondents (almost 400 in both states) met the criteria for some sort of major depressive disorder, according to the study.

--Domestic violence among internally displaced residents was nearly triple the national average."

Monday, March 26, 2007

AP Wire | 03/25/2007 | Professors teach classes on Katrina

AP Wire | 03/25/2007 | Professors teach classes on Katrina:
"Wilson and Yolanda Jones, an assistant professor of chemistry at Alcorn State University, had teamed up to offer the class 'The Impact of Katrina on Technology and Infrastructure.' Wilson brought 12 students to the coast for a month of studies in the field. Jones' students were here for a week and completed the majority of their coursework back in the classroom.

What made the program even more innovative was the division of time and labor: Students went to class a couple of days a week. The other days they labored with volunteers working from First Presbyterian Church of Bay St. Louis - cleaning yards, clearing debris and repairing and painting the homes of hurricane victims."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

From Dr. Bob

Dr. Bob: (some of the group of 12 volunteers he mentioned at Roy's were BonaRespond members).

" This evening, Mimi and I saw the Imax film, "Hurricane on the Bayou" at the Omnitheater here in St. Paul. The filming began three months before Katrina and was intended to show the importance of protecting and restoring the wetlands and Bayous that were created by the natural flow of the Mississippi 'mud' into the Gulf. Man's attempt to 'improve', control, and develop the outlet to the great river by means of levees, canals, and the city and port of New Orleans, had lead to the brink of disaster. Completion of the production of this film was 'interrupted' by the arrival of Katrina, a storm just made to prove that disaster was not only possible, but already here. The film-makers decided to include naked and overt proof - graphic images of the destructive capacity of a hurricane on communities exposed to danger by society's "improvements". Most of what I saw in the film about New Orleans and the Louisiana bayous was not new to my eyes. I have seen it all , and more, in microcosm, in every square block of east Biloxi, Waveland-Bay St.Louis, Pass Christian and the bayous of the Jordan and Wolf rivers in Mississippi. What was revealing is how we all want our documentaries to be cinematic, beautiful, dramatic, and above all, simple and straight-forward. "Hurricane on the Bayou" is all of these; where it fails, is in not portraying recovery, true-to-life. A precarious interplay between INSPIRATION and EXASPERATION, has not been "simple and straight-forward" at all. Not for the survivors, not for the volunteers, and not for the nation.

Recovery, and the issues it has uncovered and laid bare, are so complex as to defy comprehension, especially for those who have not been able to witness the disaster scene firsthand. Processing the hundreds of stories leads to clarification - sometimes - and to confusion at other times. Listening to individual persons, and taking their journeys to heart, demands much more from volunteers than any description or discussion we may offer of the structural damage wrought by hurricane Katrina. The "education" we get is not based on the relative ability of "structures"- houses, buildings, bridges - to withstand the 'forces of nature', but on the ability (or inability) of human persons to rise above loss, pain, and isolation.

INSPIRATION AND EXASPERATION is, I am thinking, a fair phrase on which to attempt summarizing eighteen long and painful months of disaster relief effort. Everyday on the Gulf Coast is an odd mixture of both, the elevating and the disappointing. When I write these letters - actually a personal 'journal' which I share with you - I try to give a balanced viewpoint; the closest I can come to this is by retelling the stories of real individual persons, as I heard, or witnessed, them.
"Real individual persons"- persons like you and I - are, by nature, imperfect - we want our lives to inspire, but often they exasperate. Warts and all, here are some from my Annals of a Katrina Volunteer : 19th Month AK (after Katrina):

MARCH 5th: Twelve recruits and I arrived at Roy's place on a temperate, sunny, windless spring day. Yes, spring has already come to the Jordan River Bayou in Bay St. Louis, and there are flowers on some trees and shrubs. The recruits come on faith. I am trusted to bring them to a place where a needy and worthy survivor of Katrina will be helped by their willing hearts and willing hands. Youth, energy, maturity, compassion, and sheer muscle will all be necessary to reach our goal : brighten Ray's outlook for the future. That is not, of course, exactly what I told these recruits when I petitioned them to participate, but I believe they will understand after they have met and worked alongside Roy, and heard his story , from the "horse's mouth", straight.
Y'all might recall my telling of Roy's plight and physical disabilities in prior letters, I won't repeat the details. Suffice it to say that a series of health setbacks, forced early retirement, and 35 feet of Katrina's seawater surge have forever altered his, his wife's and his sister-in-law's future.
This Wednesday, the remnants of the many machines, equipment, motors, pumps, tanks, boats, dock and deck which Roy planned to rehabilitate, repair, clean up or overhaul, lie like so much flotsam and jetsome of the tide, scattered over and around the property. A hundred or more volunteers have come and gone in the past 18 months, and have cleaned, repaired and reconstructed his home on stilts, and made it liveable for this family of three - all of them disabled. Today, we 13 volunteers, have come to clean and straighten up the yard, and hopefully, to bring a little more clarity and joy back into Roy's life.
Those who have not "walked in his shoes" will give this place a once over glance and quickly judge the owner to be a "junk collector" and his property " a blight on the neighborhood". Even among the chosen 12, there are already murmurs of "what are we doing here, wasting our time ?". In six arduous hours of pulling, dragging, carrying, shifting, lifting, triaging, rearranging, and , yes, trashing somethings as well, the question posed gets answered. Not by the manual labor itself, but by taking individual breaks, standing or sitting next to Roy in his wheelchair/scooter as he admires the hard work going on around him, and listening. Roy is a great storyteller - speaking the truth behind the facts of his difficult, but bravely faced life - and engaging the listener(s). Reluctantly, he also hints at the wrenching feeling he must process as he watches, and tacitly agrees to, the rearranging and /or trashing of his dream projects in the yard. I am impressed by the determined, yet gentle way in which most of the 12 recruits convince Roy that what we are doing here today is in his, and his family's, best interests. This requires a giant leap of faith, and trust, and the ability to accept the losses, and move on. It has not been fun for Roy to look everyday for 18 months at the brokeness of his immediate environment, and still be willing to get up out of bed the next day and do what little he could endure, to "fix it up" and make things a little better. Without the help of hundreds of strangers with their willing hearts and hands, Roy would have succumbed to exasperation and despair. But what has happened, and is happening right now, is, in Roy's own words of gratitude "an inspiration and encouragment to go on".
At the end of the day, all of the chosen 12, even the skeptics who wanted to put "everything in the trash heap and not save a damn thing that will just have to be moved another time", in their tired and aching bodies, covered with grimy dirt, walking to their van in mud covered shoes, sipping the last bottle of water, each one turned aside to find Roy one more time, up in the house, sitting with his grandson. They entered, one by one, not to say, "Goodbye, we are leaving now" , but to thank Roy for the privilege of being here to help , and to wish him happiness in the months ahead. It is not the first time I have seen tears in Roy's eyes, and I am sure it will not be the last time I see tears in ours. Now they will go and tell others in their volunteer group just exactly "what we were doing here today, [not] wasting our time".

This is not an isolated or embellished narrative report of a one time event. These are real people and real events. More importantly they have happened thousands of times over, since August 29, 2005. Only the names and places are changed, but all testify to the heights to which the human spirit, in service to others, can ascend. Here is the INSPIRATION . Slowly but steadily permeating and overcoming the EXASPERATION , the waiting, the dead ends, the lack of attention, the immobilizing fear of further loss or failure. Nineteen months and counting. Read the attached editorial comment and insight from a newspaper editorialist. The struggle - to put all the pieces back together again, just as they were, and recreate the same vibrant, hospitable, and caring communities of people,living in the same houses, in the same neighborhood, on the same slab of earth - this needs to end . It is just not possible, not even if the entire treasury of the nation were at our disposal.

For 18 months, the one question which I have been repeatedly asked whenever I return from Mississippi is : " Are things getting any better down there ?" An accurate and straight-forward answer escapes me. About all I can honestly say is "Yes, and No ".
YES, with the continued inspiration from the labor and presence of volunteers, some residents are finding joy with their families in their rebuilt homes; schools and parks are reopening, and sports and cultural events are happening.
NO, with the homeless, the displaced, failure of insurance, impoverishment, health care, insufficent federal funding, land and resource takeover by casinos, resorts and condominium high rises.
It will never be the same, but it will be that persons will find a way to be grateful for life itself, changed forever, but still life.
Thank God for the Roys, the Lees, the Tonys, the Judys, the Mamies, the Teresas, the Joes, the Mary Frances' and all those other inspiring people who have risen out of the ruins.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Good Neighbor Plan Aims At Blighted Property - Yahoo! News

Good Neighbor Plan Aims At Blighted Property - Yahoo! News:
"The Army Corps of Engineers and others plan to begin demolishing abandoned houses in the city in about two weeks. Property on the verge of demolition is listed in the newspaper. Homeowners have 30 days from that notice to clean up the propert"