New Orleans - Last days

Karol Collymore

It's hard to know where to start as I've wrapped up the last two days of a trip to the Gulf Coast. During the last two days, the Hands on Portland team participated in: New Orleans food bank packaging 50,000 pounds of food, rebuilding two homes in the heart of the city, planting trees and shrubs organizing the libraries and hanging out with the students, cooking dinner for 50 volunteers (I was on that team) and cleaning the New Orleans animal rescue.

One of our team members, Beth, went to one of the home building projects. I was touched by her reflection on the work. The home owner - we'll call her Susan - was warm, grateful, fed them all a huge lunch of spaghetti and meatballs, was had a determined view on why the levees broke. Susan shares the opinion of many, that the levees were broken on purpose in order to rid the city of its poor. She was clear on saying it's not based on race, but class. It was hard for Beth to talk about and hard for me to listen because we both felt that while it was highly unlikely that the levees were broken on purpose, if that were proven true, we'd believe easily. Our country does not have the best history of addressing the needs of our poor or people of color. There are no shortages of commentary from Bill Cosby to Eric Dyson about the poor, black population and how we as a people are able to start to move away from the African Diaspora and start to make our own way. Discussion should continue on what our country's roll in that was and is, and how to keep moving forward. Susan has every right to have the opinion she has. No one for a government entity has given her or her neighbors to think otherwise. Schools have not reopened; in their place endless charter schools. Kids who were just learning to read as the hurricane hit are now scarred and embittered 9 and 10 year olds who are so angry, one of our team admitted being fearful of them.

As I write this, I finish a tour of the 9th ward. I challenge anyone to drive through that area of town and say that we do not act differently when it comes to helping those most vulnerable to disaster. The place looks like a bomb was let off and written off as a wasteland. The only way one knows who is rebuilding is if there is a FEMA trailer parked out front. I couldn't take pictures; I didn't want to catalogue that pain. Dale asked me what could the government do, not just for "regular folks" but an entire neighborhood ravaged with absolutely no means to help them? The answers are all too late but maybe we'll be ready for the next one.

The animal shelter was also a tough project day. Typically, I'm not ever the first to sign up for that kind of volunteer project. I have three cats but do not think they are children. People need saving first, then animals. This place though, may have changed my mind, if only for that day. So many animals wander the streets of New Orleans because their owners chose or were forced to leave them behind as they fled for their lives. Thousands of animals were killed or left behind because of the storm and a barrage of volunteers have worked for two years to save as many of them as they can. Two things many people do not know: Animal services have not received most of the money that organizations had raised to support animal rescue efforts. Louisiana is currently working with AG offices around the country to sue organizations that raised funds in the name of Hurricane Katrina but did not turn over money. To this day, displaces residents are still claiming their animals. I cried as I was in the cages. They animals just look so sad and I wanted to take them with me, especially Raoul and Midnight who had me at hello. The shelter manager gave the Northwest special thanks, as we as a region have adopted many, many Katrina animals, sent money and allowed them to use Oregon Humane as a housing location.

The team from Hands On was sixteen strong. Everyone who went was lovely and amazing and I feel blessed to have shared this with these people. We are all forever changed and equally impressed by people from all over the world - the U.K. and Jamaica during our visit - who still after two years continue to come and support the rebuilding of peoples' lives. We are grateful to our friends and family who supported us with money and strength and to Hands On Portland who put together this great adventure. We also thank the cities of Biloxi and New Orleans whose residents thanked us at all times. Thanks also to the Blazers who were playing against the Hornets last night and gave our team wonderful seats. Feel free to contact Hands On if you have questions or comment on this blog.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    While I don't really think that the levees were broken on purpose (or maybe it is that I won't let myself believe that-not sure) I don't at all doubt that once it happened, full advantage was taken to move forward with plans that had not been allowed to happen to that point. A bit like 9/11. I don't know if we blew the buildings ourselves or not, but full advantage to inact an agenda was taken.

    Thank you for doing the work that you do, including helping to keep in our conscious the fact that this is still happening, and will continue happening.

  • bill (unverified)
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    I'm puzzled. The people of New Orleans STILL can not care for their own pets or plant their own trees after three years?

    hmmmmm.

  • (Show?)

    Yes Bill, it's easy to recover after a hurricane that flooded 80% of the city, displaced several thousand residents who still have not come back and killed over 1200 people.

  • bill (unverified)
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    I didn't think it would be easy...I sure thought 3 years and uncounted billions of dollars would do it though. We've had well over 1200 deaths in Portland in the last 3 years...probably San Diego as well no?

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    It's only been two years, dollars have not reached the people that need it, poor, middle class and rich equally hve not recieved what they need. Again, 80% of a city flooded, more than 30% of residents are not able to return. If you question it, go see it, read articles, or take my word for it. It's very, very bad.

  • bill (unverified)
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    My mistake. Only two...years. I usually do try and go see for myself so I admire your efforts. I spent a little time in Bayji for just that reason.

    I'm just not convinced that further efforts to aid our countrymen are anyting but counterproductive...that's all. Check out how far San Francisco came from total devastation after 1 year...over 100 years ago, and they had no where near the capacity, technology or infrastructure or support. It's good to help our fellow man. It is not good to enable a man who will not do for himself. If as you claim they are so devastated, why were you not helping there rather than plant trees, or clean out dog pens...surely there are higher priorities for so desperate a situation no?

    You claim that money raised to support animals has not reached them. Perhaps your efforts would have been better spent finding out why/where the money went...rather than crying in their cages. Just leave it to the lawyers and lawsuits to settle?

    I have no dog in this hunt...it's a free country and we all do as we please. I just think you are tipping toward the notion that we should rely on our government. We should not. If I am reading wrong, please accept my apologies.
    I'll shut up now.

  • doctorj (unverified)
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    Bill, You won't believe Karol, perhaps you will believe me. I am a native New Orleanian. I have not taken a penny from this country. I like Karol have volunteered extensively. The people have been abandoned by all levels of government. Those billions have not been seen by anyone. It is tied up in government redtape. My view of my own country is changed forever. I use to think Americans NEVER would turn their backs on their own. They will and they have. I gave up a long time ago for any help, no less support, from this country. The only real help has been wonderful volunteers like Karol. That is it, nothing else. The people of the city are heroic becase they have faced their circumstances with courage and good humor. I am sorry that America is too busy elsewhere to understand that.

  • bill (unverified)
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    It’s hard for me to know which is the best way to respond here.
    It has nothing to do with believing or not believing Karol. I believe she thinks she’s doing some service to her fellows, I really do.
    I think she is not.
    Further, I think she is incapable of admitting you are collectively peeing into the ocean…or even seeing that that is what you do. Your support does nothing to show me any different.

    Abandoned by all levels of government? Last I checked…like 3 minutes ago

    Fed: 51,800 million dollars initially Private: 365 million from Salvation Army alone

    Now please explain…and this just boggles my mind…how you can term this as abandonment?
    In what sense are our fellows abandoned?
    In the sense that every American has not put their life on hold to continue to help the victims of a hurricane for two years…years after it happened? In the sense that, for all the desperation and hand wringing, what we see are stories about abandoned puppies and missing trees?

    Forgive my skepticism.

    I have no doubt that the majority performed as Americans have historically performed when the chips are down…spectacularly. With courage and foresight to use your words. I hope that is correct and I believe it to be. But to accuse America….AMERICA of turning its back is to thumb your nose at the obvious and nay say it. No…America has turned it’s back on no one…and your accusations are limp and without form. All I see from your reply are empty generalities; accusations consistent with fostering the victim status so prevalent in America today and so necessary for fostering the Big Brother reliance. It is a bad bad road.

    The more I consider your response the angrier it makes me. You have colossal gall to say America has turned her back….really, monumental. http://www.uss.salvationarmy.org/uss/www_uss.nsf/vw-search/4E89018B9038361D802571BD005DDD93?opendocument

  • doctorj (unverified)
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    Allocated and donated money means nothing if it never makes it to the place where it is needed. I don't have the luxury to believe the spin as you do because I have eyes and ears to see the devastation still over two years later. There IS progress, but it is glacial because it is depending on individual citizens, not government. The government at all levels failed the citizens. The adjectives to describe this government's reaction to Katrina IS abandonment, betrayal, neglgience and neglect. And just to let you know Bill, I voted for Bush. My healing from the tragedy of this disaster cannot begin until he and his party are out of power. I am counting the days down. If you think you are sick of Katrina, think of what the people of the Gulf South feel. You cannot even begin to imagine.

  • doctorj (unverified)
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    The truth hurts. Karol is right. Go to New Orleans and see for yourself. Ride around Gentilly, Lakeview and the Lower Ninth Ward and tell me again what a wonderful country this is. Allocated and donated money means nothing if it never makes it to where it is needed. You want us to be thankful for something we have NEVER received. Sorry if I dissappoint you. The citizens of New Orleans are VERY thankful and appreciative for help we HAVE received, which is from the volunteers.

  • bill (unverified)
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    The truth hurts. Karol is right. Go to New Orleans and see for yourself. Ride around Gentilly, Lakeview and the Lower Ninth Ward and tell me again what a wonderful country this is. Allocated and donated money means nothing if it never makes it to where it is needed. You want us to be thankful for something we have NEVER received. Sorry if I dissappoint you. The citizens of New Orleans are VERY thankful and appreciative for help we HAVE received, which is from the volunteers.

    Fine...blame Americans because you are incapable of taking care of yourself. You apparently live in an America I don't know. Thank God for small favors.

  • doctorj (unverified)
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    I live in an America I do not recognize either, an America where suffering of its citizens is ignored. Is that the country you want? Because that is the country we have. That is why I am so angry and why I will not rest until this country finds it true course again.

  • bill (unverified)
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    I live in an America I do not recognize either, an America where suffering of its citizens is ignored. Is that the country you want? Because that is the country we have. That is why I am so angry and why I will not rest until this country finds it true course again.

    Annnnnd full circle.
    Only in the land of plenty would the 'informed' claim that multiple billions from public coffers, hundreds of millions from private charitiy, whole cities taking in the refugees from the storm...should be referred to as 'being ignored'. How soon we forget.

  • doctorj (unverified)
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    Bill, You have two eye witnesses to the abandonment of an American city here and you still refuse to believe. Are you SO SURE that that money reached the people it was intended for? I am here to tell you it didn't. We live in a country where party loyality trumps citizenship. "Allocated" does not mean spent. Most of the money is still in the US treasurey. There has been money spent on rebuilding the levees. These "better" levees by the year 2011 will be the strength we were promised they would be 40 years ago and were not. The COE is a joke, but we are not sitting back and letting them get away with it anymore. Go to levees.org and see the wonderful work they are doing. http://youtube.com/watch?v=XauhgHNgPw0 In December 2005 Mississppi was "allocated" their share of rebuilding money. At that time, Louisiana was given an equal amount even though the damage was 5 times the amount per capita. LA did not get their "allocation" until July 2006, eleven months after our world was destroyed. To date less than half of that money has reached the citizens it was intended for. So, yes, money has been "allocated". A lot of good that does. The people of the city were promised by our President that this country would do want it takes to rebuild the great city of New Orleans. People made life changing decisions on their future based on that promise. Too bad it was a lie.

  • bill (unverified)
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    Doc,

    If the money didn't reach....why isn't the news screaming about it?

    Could it be that allocated funding was not needed?

    Could it be that the Congress realized, rightly so, that they have no Constitutional authority to give charity as aid?

    Are you telling me the media is ignoring an opportunity to pound the administration over the head?

    Did private donations, the 365 million from the Salvation Army alone, never arrive?

    They are providing tours of the devastation for crying out loud! And you want to convince me it is a humanitarian emergency?

    You want to convince me that America turned her back on her own?

    BOLOGNA! I for one hope that the Congress and the President have woke up and realized that distribution of funds as aid is a highly dangerous power to put in the hands of our elected officials. That giving a man the power to give away money that is not his is dangerous to our Republic...no matter how well intended.

    Your perspective is skewed and fundamentally wrong and a that thinking is a danger to our nation...but it sure plays well.

  • doctorj (unverified)
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    Thanks for the laugh. That was over the top!

  • bill (unverified)
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    de nada.
    I'm here to educate about alternatives to the low road of low expectations and the socialist way...if I can brighten your day with a laugh or smile at the same time well it's just icing on the cake there sunshine.

    bill

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