Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Disaster After the Disaster

So maybe to tell you all a little about me, I’ll tell you a little about some of the work we are up to in our office, and give you a little perspective on how things are unraveling with the aftermath of Katrina. We are currently managing a FEMA Crisis Counseling Program for Katrina evacuees who have relocated here. The State has secured a pretty solid project to provide services to evacuees who went through some pretty nasty experiences in the Gulf. What those people went through still boggles the mind. You know, like, watching your baby daughter slip off your rooftop into a cesspool of floodwaters littered with garbage and dead people and animals. Or watching an older family member die in front of you because he couldn’t get a kidney dialysis or meds. Not good stuff.

Well the State did pretty good in those first few months to offer services to evacuees who were literally marched at gunpoint into buses to come here. But the Federal response continues to be one bungle after another. Although close to half the states in the union received federal dollars to provide immediate services to evacuees for a 60 day period, as of today most of those states, including ours, have not received FEMA funds to continue providing crisis counseling for evacuees for the recommended 9 months of crisis counseling. Well hello federal government, Katrina hit on August 29 and now its February - support for a 60 day period is gone. And FEMA knows that leaving people hanging during the holiday season is the absolute worst possible time to delay support. And it does take people longer than 60 days to recover psychologically from a disaster. Especially if it’s a massive disaster the scale of Katrina and a significant portion of survivors had to deal with pre-existing social pathologies associated with living in abject poverty already.

So the situation now is – we wait. We wait until the feds make a long overdue decision (if they make a decision) to provide the states with additional funding to help these poor people out. And they say its going to be soon, which is good. And in fairness, the folks at FEMA and SAMHSA administering the program are overworked and overwhelmed with the scope of the disaster, and good intentioned. I can only imagine how the restructuring with the Homeland Security Department affected things on the resource and reporting front. As for the evacuees, some are doing better. Some. Some have returned, others have relocated across the country, but many are still in limbo, or breaking down rapidly. Considering the relatively large homeless and poor population who inhabited the area, in one sense the forcible evacuation has basically amounted to dispersing this population to other states where they will likely be homeless and poor again. And another thing we are slowly finding out, in an anecdotal sense, either the level of public education down there was not very good, or access to good education was poor. Its not easy to identify your meds, or apply for housing or a job if you’re a functional illiterate. And of course there is that minority of people who are going to try and numb the pain of the experience and are blowing FEMA checks for rental assistance on drugs and alcohol, which doesn’t help anything.

Well its nearly half a year after Katrina and things are so broke now I wonder how they will ever get fixed. And what the hell is up with the rebuilding plan for New Orleans? I’m not saying that its ALL the federal government’s fault. All levels of government failed. But the feds are the ones who have the purse strings and power to do something but of course the fixation has changed from Katrina to other things. They failed the people of the gulf once and are failing them again. And past experience dictates that if you happen to be a member of a subordinated race or ethnic group in this society, chances are likely you’ll continue to get screwed.

I remember that first week of September, when the entire nation was outraged and sickened by the TV images. And the TV images were hardly capable of translating the horror of the entire experience. Where is that outrage now? Its all messed up. In short, it’s the disaster after the disaster.
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