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Hurricane Katrina: Where are we six years later?

29th August 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Radcliff
The Louisiana Weekly

Monday, August 29, 2011, marks the sixth anniversary of the Storm of the Century — Hurricane Katrina. Much has been written and said regarding the lingering effects of the disaster. Much has been written and said regarding the plans to rebuild the city — which areas received the most attention, and the fairness of the disbursement of funding and resources. Much has been said and written regarding the shift in demographics, shift in politics, and the profile of the “new” New Orleanian. Much has also been written and said regarding those who came back and those who did not — and those who could not.

The following is a series of opinions given by randomly selected laypersons and professional New Orleanians with regard to how they rate the city’s recovery six years post-Katrina. While viewpoints may vary, there are several underlying issues that resonate throughout – the results may surprise you.

Alexis — “My recovery was easy as far as material things, but emotionally…. I went to Georgia after Katrina, I stayed five years and I just returned last year. People here are not recovering mentally. By now people have pretty much recovered their material things, but not their mental health. I lost my mother after the storm and as far as my inner strength it is only at about 80 percent. It seems like everybody is on anti-depressants now… I’ve never seen so many people, including doctors on anti-depressants. New Orleans is different, everywhere you turn you see people begging… white people and children… you never used to see that down here. I don’t feel safe. The crime is worse to me. I don’t know if I just notice it more now, but to me New Orleans is a scary place. It kinda feels like a Third World nation. Nobody seems to trust anybody.”

Alexis, 28 — Insurance Customer Care Representative

Ron McClain — “The recovery has been uneven. In my opinion it’s been a tale of two cities. One city fully recovered perhaps better than it was, those areas which had access to more resources or more money personally… then you have those other areas that look like they will probably never fully recover. And when you think about your populations that were vulnerable before Katrina — the poor, the elderly, the disabled, people with mental health issues — a lot of those people continue to struggle and are far from recovery. I think there has also been an increase across the board in risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use and risk factors especially for vulnerable populations. We no longer have as many supports in our environment and community that we used to… with regard to mental health, we’re still pretty depleted in terms of mental health professionals… we don’t have nearly as many social workers in our schools that we need… in fact some of the charter schools don’t have any. The level of support is not nearly where it was before the storm; and before the storm it was woefully inadequate. The good news is that many are now recognizing the need for that level of support. My contention is that all schools should have social workers, but not all of them do… With regard to the homeless population, I’ve never seen as many people who seem like they were totally without options. Additionally, I have seen an increase in homeless young people, white people… and I don’t know if they are actually indigent or just transient and came here after the storm and see this as a way of getting money for recreational use — because they don’t fit the profile of people who are traditionally homeless.”

Dr. Ron McClain received his Master’s of Social Work from Southern University at New Orleans and his Juris Doctor from Loyola University, School of Law. He is currently the president and CEO of Family Service of Greater New Orleans.

Malcolm Suber — “I think we can say without fear of contradiction that six years have passed and a lot needs to be done. Especially with regard to poor Black people being able to return to the city where they were born. We still have over 100,000 mainly Black people still displaced. And since those Black people haven’t been able to return, we’ve had a white takeover of City Hall, the D.A.’s office, the police department, and I think the consequences of that have been detrimental to Black people. Having said that, I do think that we have made some headway in our struggle for justice. Certainly we’ve got the Danziger people convicted and some other people convicted, so we’ve made some strides vis-a-vis the police department. Even as such, I would say overall we’ve still got a long way to go. Unfortunately, our Black political leadership has failed us. Histori­cally and today, not one Black official took a stand on Danziger, or on the Glover trial, and it’s very troublesome to me that one can pose as a leader in the community and be silent about things that are very pertinent to the lives and well-being of the Black people who elect them That’s an indication that we have to have new political leadership in New Orleans. With regard to the issue of safety, personally, I believe as long as the New Orleans police are in charge, Black people can’t feel safe in this city because the people who are supposed to be protecting your safety are the ones doing the abusing. So I would definitely say that we cannot trust them, should not trust them; and I don’t feel safe, and won’t feel safe, until there is some change in the regime and the behavior of the New Orleans Police Department. I’m more afraid of them than the so-called criminal element of the city. Of course we have a serious problem with some of our Black youth, but that’s born out of self-hatred and we need to find some effective solutions for these young men so that they won’t end up murdering each other on the street. With regard to the increase in drug and alcohol addictions, because of the adverse conditions in which we live, more and more people seek a medicinal solution to social problems. People who are addicted to drugs seek out drugs to numb the pain of their miserable conditions. But certainly we should be trying to improve the social conditions. Because Governor Jindal has eradicated our mental health resources, we now have a condition in which Parish Prison has become the biggest mental health center in the city.”

Dr. Suber earned his Ph.D. from Morehouse College and is a renown community activist and describes himself as a former textile worker, autoworker, college professor, printer, the executive director of UrbanHeart, organizer of Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund, and longtime New Orleans anti-police brutality activist.

Randy Randolph — “Everybody’s kinda living in different places now. Where traditionally you had certain people who lived in the 7th Ward, certain other people who lived in the 9th Ward… it’s all been kinda shaken up a little bit now. There’s still a lot going on in construction for oblivious reasons; and there’s going to be a lot of construction going on for some time. Although the pace has gotten slower… the money isn’t there like it was right after Katrina. That’s kinda holding things up, but, it’s prolonging the work. The insurance companies did a pretty good job at taking care of people who lived Uptown, even Lakeview. It’s unfair though because as many people got flooded out in Lakeview as those in the 9th Ward — but Lakeview got a lot of attention. With regard to the crime problem, I can honestly said that I have seen a big jump in crime. It goes in cycles… it was bad before Katrina and at times now it gets bad again.

I don’t see anything that has stopped the pattern. One thing that strikes me the city now as opposed to before is college students…. At one time before Katrina, kids who would come from out-of-town and go to school here, would fall in love with the city and end up staying here. It was the ‘Big Easy.’ It had the enjoyment of a big city but the pace of a smaller town and you didn’t have that everywhere, so people would get comfortable and end up staying here. But now as soon as the kids receive their degrees they’re jetting out of here.”

Randy Randolph is a 41-year-old electrician.

Jyaphia Christos-Rodgers — “When our institutions try to create solutions to big problems, they often try to do it in a colorblind way. But because there’s so much history that affects the way problems show up, I think that doing things in a colorblind way always leads to disadvantages for some communities and usually those are communities of color, especially in New Orleans, Black communities and lower-income Black communities, and I’m speaking as a white person. I can see in my neighborhood, a neighborhood where more white people live, schools where more white people’s kids go to, things are further along. And I believe some of that was the way the Road Home program was implemented. The economic policy which said that what you get was dependent upon your pre-Katrina value of your home. Well the same home in a white neighborhood and a Black neighborhood were valued differently based solely on the fact of whether they were located in white neighborhoods or Black neighborhoods. So I think it made it harder for some of my African-American friends, their families and their communities to recover because they were at an economic disadvantage because of the unfair devaluing of the homes in their neighborhood. And yet the replacement value (or the cost to repair or replace your home) is the same across the board; so if you lived in a white neighborhood you had an advantage. I think that there are inequalities; and I think that when some people are faced with inequalities, it hurts everybody. With regard to homelessness, I think that everybody is more at risk to be homeless — everybody.

There’s less job security, and the more people are at risk (with regard to) job security, the more people are at risk for homelessness and the more people at risk for homelessness, the more people will be at risk for mental health issues. As it stands, everyone already carries the burden of being a traumatized community. You see, we were stressed as a community before the storm; we were stressed living in a community which had so many economic disadvantages. I worked for eight years in a federal jobs initiative program. Our target area included New Orleans and five other economically depressed major cities. New Orleans consistently showed the lowest job growth — and this was before Katrina. Then the storm comes into an already devastated community and on top of that we have the oil spill, so now we have triple devastation. When people are traumatized over and over and over again, it shows up in our families, it shows up in more substance abuse, it shows up in more mental illnesses, it shows up all over the place. I know it showed up in my family. A lot of young people in my family were coming of age when Katrina hit. They are supposed to be at a point of their lives when opportunity is there for them. They are supposed to be entering the workforce in entry-level positions and starting to build their skills. Yet it’s been so hard for them to make that transition into adulthood because there are so few opportunities.”

Mrs. Christos-Rodgers received her M.A. in Urban Sociology from the University of New Orleans and describes herself as a sociologist, community organizer, and diva chef.

David Abramson — “It seems to me that there was and still is an inequality in the recovery effort and in part because so many people who were displaced did not have the resources or wherewithal to be engaged in the community recovery effort back in the city. It was difficult for these people to return to the city. So I would say that the recovery, from an individual or a family perspective, is difficult and ongoing as we certainly learned (in our comprehensive five-year trended study). And from the community perspective as well, I think that it’s inequitable. The people who were more vulnerable are more likely to have been displaced and were unable to return to the city. I think that the institutions in the city are not always as equitable as they could be. I think that the school system in the city is better than it was before, but it still has a long way to go, and it is still inequitable. It would seem like the various commissions that were impaneled to determine how best to help New Orleans recover were also inequitable.

“In some cases it was a tough choice, a Hopson’s choice or one in which no real good alternatives were offered. I believe that some of the areas, like some of the areas in the 9th Ward, should not be re-developed because they are in a fundamentally risky area; and because of that the people who lived there before the storm, especially those who were renting, had no recourse after Katrina to find an equivalent site back in the city. With regard to the cycle of trauma experience by the city, it was absolutely no doubt that what we saw, what we measured among the children who we were following, is that the children who had been displaced were exhibiting serious emotional distress at levels that were four or five times the norm or the average for the rest of the U.S. population of similar kids — and this was four years after Katrina. It seems pretty clear that the remnants of Katrina are lingering with these kids and that they are having substantial sustained mental health effects. We’ve been funded by the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, to look into the mental health effects on children long-term following the Gulf oil spill. When we initially looked last year, when the oil spill was unfolding, it looked as though it had serious potential mental health consequences of the oil spill because it’s one more trauma, one more insult to the community and it makes it hard for people who are recovering to have to recover both from Katrina and then have the economic impact of the oil spill to deal with as well. With regard to the adults, nearly 40 percent of those that we have followed over a four-year period post-Katrina had serious emotional, behavioral, psychological issues — 40 percent, or almost half of all of the adults we surveyed!”

Dr. Abramson received his Ph.D. in Public Health from Columbia University and is currently Pro­fessor of Clinical of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University, as well as, Columbia University’s Mailman’s School of Public Health, Director of Research for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. He is the lead researcher for the Gulf Coast Child & Family Health Five Year Study following the displacement, health, and recovery among 1,074 randomly sampled households displaced or greatly impacted by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. He is also the co-author of “The Prevalence and Predictors of Mental Health Distress Post-Katrina: Findings from the Gulf Coast Child and Family Health Study” and “On the Edge: Children and Families Displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Face a Looming Medical and Mental Health Crisis.”

This article originally published in the August 29, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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