Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hurricane Katrina--Invisible to the tourist eye

I chose to take a Hurricane Katrina Tour yesterday. My interest in the tour disturbed me. I didn't want to be the sensational tourist who wanted to see other people's devastation, but I wanted to understand and see for myself the lack of resources that have been placed toward this effort to rebuild. Seeing what New Orleans offers on the surface and what is easily available to tourists makes it too easy to overlook that so much has not been done. It makes it easy for me to be comfortable listening to jazz, eating jambalaya, and going back home thinking everything is fine.

Everything is not fine.

Over three years later, as we travelled around to the different parts of the city, I could still see houses marked with an "X" and "TFW" (Task Force Washington) to let people know the house had been checked and cleared. There were entire shopping centers still vacant and in disrepair. There were very large homes with tall weeds all around them because no one had returned to that property.

The blight was not limited to poor neighborhoods, although many of the wealthier neighborhoods were often located on higher ground and weren't as affected. Small and large houses alike had been hit and were left behind--vacant and now overgrown.

The entire city is like a neglected urban area....like a giant "inner city neighborhood." I couldn't help but think of the $700 billion that has been approved to bail out the economy and has been given to people who knew what they were doing and could've changed course...yet we left an entire city whose commerce and culture is just as vitally important to our country to figure out how to fix their own problems.

Something about that seems terribly wrong. The scars because of our terrible mistake are, unfortunately, hidden--except to those who continue to be affected.

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While listening to some great jazz music at Preservation Hall I met two people who had come to New Orleans about 18 months ago to work with Habitat for Humanity and Americorps through the St. Bernard Parish Project to help rebuild homes. I believe he said they had built around 50 homes during that time period.

One of the guest drummers works with Sweet Home New Orleans, a non-profit agency that offers social services and financial assistance to the city’s musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, and Social Aid & Pleasure Club members. Sweet Home’s mission is to perpetuate New Orleans’ cultural traditions by providing direct services to the individuals and institutions that will carry them forward.

I also purchased a book called 1 Dead in Attic that is a recently updated version of personal accounts that have happened during and since the hurricane.

After seeing what still needs to be done and talking to people who are doing it, I would highly recommend that you invest some of your money into these two organizations. I'm sure there are more, but these two are ones that I have talked directly to people working with them. People are working hard to rebuild this city with no help from the government. I hear people talk about how we should leave things up to the people...so here it is. New Orleans still needs help. Please consider helping monetarily, coming to rebuild with the local organizations already in existence, or even moving here to take a teaching job.

Many have not moved back because of lack of resources. Housing prices have risen, businesses have disappeared, jobs are not available. Jobs can't become available until people move back and people can't move back until jobs are available. I would encourage everyone to help if at all possible.

To see the slideshow of my New Orleans/Hurricane Katrina pics, click here.

Here a few to preview:





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