(posted on the katrinaNO05 Yahoo listserv)
"I was earlier asked why I would not identify myself - and by the end of this email posting - most of you will understand.
I returned yesterday from spending 36 of a 48 hour trip back to my home in New Orleans, touring the depths, nooks and crannies of the 4 parish area mostly affected by Hurricane Katrina - St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Jefferson and Orleans. I was asked if I would assist a film crew here from Texas working with the feds on environmental effects from the hurricane. After two days of driving, looking, talking and processing, I don't think i have ever been so disturbed and haunted than I am at this moment.
The two main points I want to convey are these:
1. Most of Orleans Parish residents are being ignored
2. Our neighbor parishes are rebuilding while we don't
And my question is simple - WHY?
There is NO military or law enforcement presence in the vast majority of Orleans Parish. I passed a total of less than a dozen national guards while touring for two days -and only a few sporadic police vehicles. In New Orleans, there are a few key spots where military/police can be found - in front of the Hyatt where the mayor and his group are located, at a few major intersections in the city, and that is about it. I drove over 75% of Orleans Parish. With the exception of the French Quarter, the CBD, and the St. Charles Avenue corridor - specifically the river side, and scattered uptown areas on the claiborne side within walking distance of St. Charles -there is little else where you find people, businesses, opened merchants, and rebuilding efforts.
The rest of the city, and particularly New Olreans East, remain ghost towns, with the only visible life I noticed were people who had driven to their homes with moving vans, or trailers, to load up what was salvagable, and were leaving. This is the only signs of life in the majority of our parish.
There are no public safety folks watching large parts of our parish - evidenced by my touring some of the NO East neighborhoods both poor and wealthy - and literally watching two different groups go house to house - looting. I have heard the same thing from several colleagues who are doing construction work, and are on the ground in the area and seeing looting still occuring - in broad daylight no less.
There is no presence of any form of social service support efforts. I passed, stopped and talked with the only two "help" workers I saw in the Parish. Two Salvation Army trucks which were driving neighborhoods and passing out drinks, snacks and cleaning supplies. In talking with them, both trucks, one in Uptown New Orleans and the other in St. Bernard Parish, both ended up asking me questions when they found out I was a public health expert. First the questions were related to their safety, should they wear masks, what about the water, touching mold, mosquito transmitted viruses and so forth. Even the few on-the-ground workers do not know or have access to information regarding their own safety, let alone what to tell folks in the community who ask questions regarding their safety.
The other issue the Salvation Army workers brought up was telling me that literally one out of every two groups they stopped to pass out food and cleaning supplies with - would literally break down completely into tears for a multitude of reasons - losing everything they own, not knowing how they would finally recover, dealing with depression and being overwhelmed - an entire set of post trauma issues. As the men on the Salvation Army trucks told me - they are NOT trained for providing this kind of support, and don't know what to tell people. They are not trained counselors, they know of know resources or support services they can refer them.
And they as workers are not being provided any information to give people - nothing. Most of the workers said they were also now dealing with their own frustration and stress of what they were seeing, and as workers in a disaster area - having no support or counselors available to them either.
We have hundreds of thousands of people here and elsewhere who need mental health support services, and the need is going to increase over time. There is 1 clinic in Orleans Parish, in Algiers providing any form of mental health support, counseling or access to medications for the parish.
The second issue of primary importance is the contrast between the four different parishes - and how their leadership and officials are dealing with the hurricane aftermath. In touring St. Bernard Parish - the hardest hit of all of us - they have already established a temporary infrastrucutre. Throughout the parish - spray-painted signs across the city telling parishoners where they could get shots, go to a free clinic for medical needs, where to get prescriptions filled, get signed up with Medicaid, get cleaning supplies, and so forth and so on. All over the Parish - low and upper income - were multiple residents cleaning, clearing, helping, and the St. Bernard Parish Government and Council have DEMANDED more from FEMA, from the State, from the Feds, from Red Cross and all the other outside agencies who have literally millions of donated and federally mandated dollars to HELP our region.
Where are they?
Why are they not helping my elderly neighbors who have gas leaks, refrigerators in their home going on 6 weeks now still in their homes, no car, and no idea what to do, let alone anyone helping in a case management capacity or assisting with getting her refrigerators out, her home cleaned of mold and so forth and so on.
My belief is that if New Orleans wanted to be in tandem with St. Bernard, or St. Tammany or Jefferson - they could be, plain and simple.
Although many will summarize my remarks as New Orleans "incompetance," I believe it much deeper than that. We know we have little, if any strong leadership on behalf of our Parish - but who is holding our existing leadership accountable, who is saying "this is not acceptable?" And from what I see - no one.
Thousands of people are dealing with or attempting to deal with unbelievable and unimaginable loss, trauma and stress. Our other 3 local parishes are supporting, creating, and assisting their parishoners - reacting and serving their people heads and shoulders above the crap we are being told and what is being made available to our residents.
And here is the bottom line - what is Orleans Parish doing in contrast to the other 3 parishes for it's residents? My opinion - not much. I have lived in many places in the US and abroad, and I never thought i would ever give up hope for change, for social justice, for communities coming together to force change - but my tour 6-weeks after the hurricane was so incredibly heart-wrenching and disturbing, that for the first time in over 12 years, I told my husband that maybe we should relocate.
We all know we can do better and we deserve better. But until we step up to the plate and demand meetings and places at the table - we have failed ourselves and our community.
How is it possible that the city which throws the world's largest party - can have it cleaned up within 24-hours - but can't (or won't) provide basic human services and support to the thousands of people who are coming home or remaining in our parish without anyone at the local, state or federal level appearing to help, let alone care. I would be loading up my trailer as well.
Several years ago, I served as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in the poorest country in the world - a country steeped in poverty and corruption and while there - the country broke out into a civil war. I have seen war, devestation, corruption, politics, greed, carnage, dislocation, loss, grieving. And despite everything I witnessed and experienced and lost - what I see happening in front of my eyes disturbs me far more.
Where is FEMA? They have 4,000 FEMA staff here in Baton Rouge - why aren't they in the field? I don't care if our Mayor is talking with them - I want to talk to them - we have a right to know at all levels.
Where is Red Cross? They are in LaPlace, still incapable of manning their phones and getting promised funding to people. So we shouldn't be surprised that they appear to be nowhere, and the few "camps" they have are for coodination of their volunteers - not to help any of us obtain any of the promised services and funding.
Where is the federal money we have been promised - where is it going - and why are there NO efforts on the ground?
Why are we allowing deliberate indifference to the majority of our parish residents?
Where is the over 2 billion dollars raised by nonprofits to provide services in impact areas?
Where is military and law enforcement support and protection for all of us?
Why have so many other states who offered to help been turned away? Why aren't they allowed to come in?
We are panicked, suffering, traumatized and have to make life altering decisions - and there is no one anywhere to help us?
If this listserve is really committed to equitable rebuilding - then something has to happen NOW. I will personally call and demand a meeting with the Executive Director of the American Red Cross and tell her that we will be provided a full financial accounting of every dime that was donated to Red Cross - and where it went, what it paid for. They are a 501 (c) 3 organization, and the freedom of information act guarantees that they must provide this information, at the moment of our request, becuase they are a tax exempt organization.
If we want to stop this landslide - we need to not only develop reform statements - but back them with action steps, and who will carry the agenda forward to be heard, and make these organizations accountable to us fiscally and in planning.
Email postings are simply words to verify what we already know. In many ways - it is wasting more of our already limited time and energy and resources. I'm tired of reading more words which just enrage me even further, more injustices and autrocities occuring.
We aren't the news - we are supposed to be a coalition, right? Coalitions make things happen.
I'm moving back to New Orleans, not because I have a job, (no one will hire any of us highly skilled trained professionals, despite those of us with phenomenal backgrounds and experience in public health and natural disasters..) not because my insurance adjuster has finally called and told us he would be coming out (we were told 6-8 more weeks before they could get here), but to do the right thing, the humane thing, and the decent thing.
To HELP those who need it - because no one else is. Words and suggestions are NOT helping anyone or anything at this point.
With every day that goes by - we lose more footholding and opportunity to really flip this thing around and take forward the fair and equitable leadership that is so dramatically needed. Otherwise - we will not only have the same crap we have always had - but it will be even worse. And that is a parish I am not willing to live, work and raise my family within.
For any of you who have not been down to see firsthand what I am presenting - then please get here and go see for yourself. The impact of seeing, smelling and talking with people will explain why words and pictures are not enough, and not depicting what is going on.
I met with several dept. of justice officials who had come down to meet with leaders on behalf of and reporting directly back to the US President and the Secretary of Homeland Security. Despite that "ultimate authority" they traveled with to Louisiana, they were actually told by our state government that they were to tell them who they wanted to talk with, and why they wanted to meet with them - and they would both determine if that was acceptable and arrange the meetings.
I was invited to their last informal meeting, due to my previous work with various state agencies and nonprofit organizations. This group of feds were overwhelmed, devestated, shocked and overcome with the magnitude of what has happened and how EVERYONE is handling the various pieces, or rather not handling and not providing assistance and support NOW.
As for where to meet in New Orleans for a meeting - I am happy to coordinate something if folks want to get together and talk through actually doing something here and now. Take your pick of spots. A restaurant or a meeting room. I can easily arrange either.
And here is why I will not identify myself - because whenever I have spoken up, when others would not or could not - I have taken professional and personal hits for it. Until I know that my back is covered and there are others willing to come forward, and not just talk about - but to demand better - I will continue to remain anonymous, because I too am dealing with an overwhelming amount of loss and devestation and like so many of us - I cannot handle much more."