Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I fought a bowl of oatmeal

What an eye opening spring break. I went down to New Orleans with UC's Alternative Spring Break organization. This organization is such a worthwhile cause. Unlike most things that UC sponsors, I genuinely think that this organization actually has pure intentions. I really respect the leadership and goals of ASB. Consequently, I think I'm going to lead a trip next year.

Anyway, the state of New Orleans is unbelievable. I still cannot rationalize why so little has been done in almost two years since the hurricane. Prior to the trip I heard from several people that not much had been done to repair the neighborhoods that were completely destroyed by flood waters. However, I was totally unprepared for the chaos that is flourishing in the city. It's hard to know who is responsible for the lack of progress. If you talk to locals, they'll all say the same thing: the federal government is at fault. Thousands of residents live in white FEMA trailers while there houses are being rebuilt. By providing trailers, FEMA hopes to allow former residents to return to the city and pick up there old jobs and supervise the rebuilding of their homes. However, in many cases residents didn't even receive their trailer until last month. Now, the trailers are being removed from properties because they were designed for only temporary usage. I had the opportunity to talk to three individuals who were all living in trailers provided by the government. While they had been living in their trailers for awhile, none of them have recieved enough federal relief funding to rebuid their homes. Without, proper funding middle and lower income families cannot afford to restore their homes to meet with fire and structural codes.

Volunteer organizations help quite a bit by providing free labor and materials but the non-profit intiative is not functioning on a large enough scale to meet the needs of the New Orleans community in a realistic timespan. Because the rebuilding effort is so sluggish many former residents have decided not to return. In the St. Bernard parish, only 5,000 of the 65,000 residents have returned. No community infrastructure can function when 92% of its members are not residing within the area. As a result, roads can't be repaired, there's very little public education and utilities are slow to return to functionality. To make matters worse, the city of New Orleans is beginning to demolish abandoned buildings.

I had many opportunities to see the progress of the rebuilding process. Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity are doing great things but it is clearly not enough. I couldn't help but ask myself, "is it even worth it to rebuild?" as I observed the thousands and thousands of empty homes with no sign of rebuilding intentions except for the plea "please don't demolish my home" scrawled in spray paint on hundreds of house in the 9th ward.

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