Friday, April 21, 2006

Election Eve

Its been a while since I talked about Katrina. There’s not much of an update to be optimistic about. Good news is that seven months after the flood, we finally got our grant money to do crisis counseling. However they also cut our request by a significant chunk. Not enough to cripple the program but enough to basically keep us going until barely past the anniversary mark, which is typically one of the worst stages of the post disaster -disaster for survivors. Well at least we’re not in the same boat as those states which still haven’t gotten a grant award from the feds and have had to shut down completely. And I should also note - even states like Texas had to wait until about a month and a half ago to get funds. Guess we’re all being equally neglected.

The bad news is that the situation with evacuees here has gotten so bad that its no longer a struggle with trying to get people to keep off drugs or get hooked up with local agencies. Yeah that’s still happening to an extent, but for more and more cases, the struggle now is just to keep people out of jail. I’ve come to the conclusion that we are basically going to lose a lot of people here. Despite the good intentions of the folks at SAMHSA and FEMA - and I do think there are some folks with both those outfits who are good intentioned – I think this program is headed for failure. I am seeing it head for failure every day. Its getting worse and worse. And forgive me for sounding naïve and judgmental but from my perspective, I think this disaster of failing to adequately respond is worse than the flood itself.

I didn’t see the city implode around me and I didn’t have to swim through the oil and shit and bodies. From my perspective, I’m just one of the state-level guys involved with picking up the pieces. And I’m with a state that’s probably a blip on the radar when it comes to Katrina evacuees compared to places like Texas and Arkansas.

But there are one or two big-ass problems here. Namely, our state has been shoved with a federal program to do crisis counseling with no funds or support to do anything else. We’re charged with helping people cope with mental health issues associated with the flood and its aftermath. We’re supposed to help bring people back to a level of functioning that existed prior to the disaster. But prior to this disaster, a lot of the evacuees we deal with were already living in shit situations on the streets with all sorts of co-occurring disorders. According to our grant obligations and grant capacity, we can’t do the sort of case management that is needed to help people become functional and independent. If FEMA is going to dole out money for God’s sake they should dole out enough to enable the states to help meet all the needs that exist. Not just mental health needs but employment and housing needs, problems with addictions, illiteracy and on and on. I mean it’s a pretty simple equation – if you’ve got someone who is homeless, has a drug addiction, and has a mental health disorder – well then you’ve got to have the resources to address all three of those needs in order to try and help that person. If you only address one of those needs and not the other two, that person will fail, and that is pretty much stock Social Work 101 knowledge.

So where is the money? A while ago, HHS announced some money for case management to our state. About enough to basically pay off what local agencies went into debt for to provide relief for the initial arrival of evacuees last year. Then our state was to be sub-awarded a good chunk this month through the President’s Faith-Based Initiative via a particular organization that shall go unnamed. Well we’re still waiting. That organization was supposed to announce the recipient earlier this month and they have yet to do so. I am sure they probably will make an announcement eventually, but hey - shouldn’t this money have come down the pipeline last year? Again, I wonder: Where are the priorities? Where is the common sense? We’re losing people day by day here. This is why the failure to respond is worse than the flood in my mind: because despite all the fuckups the feds have already made, they still continue to fuck it up 7 months after the fact.

What a long whine. But I do have some suggestions for any takers out there who happen to have any influence. Not that I expect that any big shots from FEMA/DHS (or SAMHSA to a lesser extent) are reading this, but oh well. First of all, at least have the honesty to track the need and follow with adequate recovery funds. If you’re going to evacuate homeless people at gunpoint to my state, send us the financial support we need to help give them a fighting chance. Secondly, when you do get the funds together, don’t bifurcate the money into a FEMA pot and a Faith-Based Initiative pot. Although I have become convinced that FBI’s have an important place at the table when it comes to disaster response, the overall response has to be coordinated in a way so that funds are concentrated and distributed to the states at one time or the same times, not strewn over a period of seven months. Finally, get your payroll straight so you can help us out to begin with. If you can pay select corporations $50 and hour per employee to guard an oil pipeline abroad, that tells me you should have enough money to spare for the states to try and care for people here.

I’ll leave it at that for tonight. We’re nearing hurricane season already and its only four months away from the anniversary.


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