Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Back on the Streets

The Times-Picayune reported today that FEMA will begin evaluating its rental assistance program and “weed out” those not eligible for funds. Well that’s fine in principal. FEMA needs to account for its funds and is ultimately reporting to the GAO. And unfortunately, post-disaster recovery has a long history of associated fraudulent activity committed by contractors, insurance companies and other third parties, property owners, and government employees alike.

But what struck me in the Times-Picayune article was:

No one knows how many people will lose their trailers or their cash -- FEMA says the figure is small -- but the move is necessary as the agency goes from emergency to more traditional, longer-term programs. That process requires FEMA to weed out some noneligible beneficiaries, such as foreign citizens in the United States illegally or people who were homeless when the storm hit.

Apparently all of last September’s philosophical navel-gazing and talk about confronting difficult issues of race, class and poverty in this society is no longer in vogue. If you were homeless before Katrina, you’ll be homeless again. Yes, there are people who are living in public housing and trailers post-Katrina who were previously homeless. Why in the world is it good to categorically end all rental assistance to this formerly homeless population? For the time being, these past few months have been a horribly traumatic experience for all survivors. But if there is a silver lining, its that for some of the worst off of the worst off, the post-Katrina relocation and federal assistance has allowed some people an opportunity to finally start anew. If you have a HUD sponsored apartment for the first time in months, or years, you’ve now got a chance to seek a job, to try and turn your life around. Sure it may be a small and bare apartment, but its not a cardboard box and it’s a place where a single homeless mother with three kids can get off the streets and sleep in safety. It’s the beginning of the beginning of a second chance. But not anymore. Now you’re basically at risk again to be back on the streets.

To add insult to injury, FEMA is currently operating with a February 13 deadline to end payments to hotels that are hosting evacuees. It’s no longer a secret that a small proportion of individuals currently staying in hotels have felony records likely having to do with drugs. The feds’ ongoing “War on Drugs/War on Crime” has basically ruled out Section 8 housing for individuals with criminal records. In other words you’re not dangerous enough to be in prison, but you’re apparently too dangerous to qualify for public housing. So on February 14 where do you find yourself? Back on the streets. Gosh, THAT really helps people reform themselves and become productive members of society.

Now if the feds were to compensate for these decisions by providing significant funds to all states or municipalities hosting Katrina evacuees to provide needed work training, case management or wrap-around services to help people cope with the transition and get on their feet, it might make the funding cuts somewhat easier to deal with. But has that happened? Nope. Another nail in the coffin. So much for “ a hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency.”

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