Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hotel Katrina

I still get so many calls at work from people who are living in hotel rooms, anxiously watching the calendar inch closer to the February 7th deadline for them to start paying for themselves. I'm torn between frustration and empathy. "Why haven't you found a new job yet?" I want to ask them. It's been five months. We need to start moving forward here. At the same time, I know my own grandparents are still living in my parents' garage while they rebuild their home. And the paradox of FEMA trailers is that you have to have a place to put one. Most people who rented their homes or lived in apartments don't qualify as of yet--they're still working on getting more large parks set up-- which puts a strain on the poor population. This whole situation just reflects on such a painful scale the ongoing issue of poverty in America and in New Orleans. It can't all be blamed on either the people or the government--it's a combination of both. A lack of resources and support combined with a crippling culture of poverty just keep driving the same families further and further down. And in New Orleans, as in most cities, impoverished is pretty much synonymous with black, which leads to the whole issue of the chocolate city. As divisive and offensive as Nagin's comments were, they rang with truth. Black culture is a huge part of New Orleans, and that sector of the population is in serious danger of never being able to return.

The biggest aspect of my work is crisis counseling. The experts say that mental health issues--mostly depression and anxiety brought on by stress and loss--peak within the first year after a major disaster and then taper off, with a small percentage needing ongoing professional help. The problem here is that for such a large number of people, the crisis isn't over yet. The process of healing hasn't even begun, because they're still concerned with where their food is coming from, where they'll be sleeping next month, where they will end up. What these people need is help in making plans, because the same behavior patterns that kept them in poverty are keeping them from picking up the pieces of Katrina, and the resources at their disposal just aren't enough to guide them back to a stable life.

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