September 01, 2005

A Unique Need for Help

Originally posted by Tim Shey from The Huffington Post | Full Blog Feed, reBlogged by ts

The relief effort in New Orleans and the Gulf coast is going to be a complicated and long-term commitment, at a time when many of the resources we need — from federal funding to National Guard support to the economic conditions that support charitable giving — have already been taxed by the wars overseas. There will need to be an unprecedented mobilization of funding, volunteers, engineering, and state, federal and military resources in the area.

One of the greatest challenges will be supporting all the people displaced from New Orleans, which increasingly is looking to be an extended problem—Mayor Ray Nagin said this morning that 12-16 weeks before most can return safely to the area, and it’s unclear what they will be returning to. [Thursday morning update: The Washington Post writes today that due to contaminations and the difficulties of rebuilding, it may be much longer.] The official estimated population of the city is 480,000 by most accounts, but there could be many more who were living there — in many of the poorer neighborhoods of New Orleans, living arrangements were improvised and shifting, and children and teens that I met in my time there were often living without a clear support structure, going from relative to relative or family friend. Almost 1.3 million were ordered to evacuate from the city and its surrounding area, which included suburbs like Metairie and the towns of the West Bank, which in some places seem to have been hit equally hard.

Many, if not most, of the people now displaced do not have the means to survive away from their homes for such a long period of time — according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, New Orlean’s median income is well below the national and state averages, and nearly 30% of New Orleans residents live at or below the poverty line, including 43% of children under the age of 12. A comparison of poverty and elevation maps on the site illustrate how many of those residents were, and will continue to be, the hardest hit by flooding, as the bowl of the city continues to fill from levee breaches. Not everyone will be fortunate enough to have friends and strangers open their homes to them, despite the need, and most will not be able to work and earn income during this time, or assess the extent of damage to their property, places of employment, and livelihood. Insurance claims, for those who had coverage, may be a long way off as well. Short-term, they need shelter, food, water, and clothing — long-term, they may need help to completely restart their lives, possibly in a new place.

I was only a resident of New Orleans for a short time, but like many who have lived in or just visited the city, it holds a special place, and the loss is personal. The images and stories of people in need, however, and an awareness of the long-term challenges they will face, should be compelling enough for everyone to help. We need a response, in many ways, like when people rallied for New York in 2001 — the devastation, for New Orleans, is comparable, if not worse, and the long term effects could be more severe. Beyond the basics like water and power, infrastructure such as transportation, hospitals and support services, already in need, are in much worse shape now — and according to some reports heard this morning from local teachers, many of the schools have been destroyed. In a different way than New York, Louisiana and Mississippi are some of the hearts of the U.S., and they need our help. Donating or volunteering with the Red Cross is one way; other ways include supporting the Humane Society in its efforts to help animals and their owners with rescue and ongoing shelter, or the many organizations listed at Network for Good.

Wikipedia is keeping a list of help and resources for victims of the storm, and if you know of more, please add them.

Via The Huffington Post | Full Blog Feed