Saturday, May 20, 2006

Rumors


Nine months after the flood, and the lack of progress is frightening. We’re now into the second month of what is the official, FEMA-sponsored Regular Services Program to provide crisis counseling for Katrina evacuees throughout the country. The feds have hosted a few multi-state conference calls linking the states up with each other and SAMHSA/FEMA to discuss national strategies and needs so far. Yet strangely, the first regularly scheduled call isn’t scheduled until early June. One would think that national coordination among the states on a regular basis would have been implemented months ago, but apparently not.

Well in a sense this isn’t too surprising. For the crisis counseling professionals out there, when it comes to community-wide response to natural disasters or mass-violence incidents the counselors are usually coming in last when it comes to response. And they are usually the last ones out as well. Granted, FEMA has had a ton of stuff to deal with since last September. They fucked up, they’re still fucking up, and after so much notorious waste was created last year the GAO is on their asses to prevent any further unnecessary spending on mental health response. So FEMA – it seems from my vantage point – hasn’t had an opportunity to prioritize the SAMHSA programs until now. Not that that’s an excuse, but more the reality. Mental health unfortunately isn’t a priority in the feds’ perception. Providing mental health services isn’t as sexy an initiative as say, rebuilding some extravagant new tax-free version of New Orleans-cum-Hollywood brought to you by Harrah’s Casinos.

Yet mental health issues will continue to cause harm today and tomorrow to the thousands and thousands of evacuees still dispersed like second class citizens across the landscape of the country. Where we are the drug and alcohol use and incidence of family violence (that is reported and we know about) is spiraling. The recent multi-state communications these past few weeks have laid it out for all of us working on the state level to appreciate how enormous the problem is. The grapevine among the states farthest from the Gulf bears bad news: Wisconsin has an estimated 1,650 registered evacuee households, mainly in the Milwaukee area. Missouri now has an estimated 4,000 registered evacuee households – although down from 16,000 last year. Indiana reported 2,600 registered households. In Iowa the approximate number of evacuees is about 1,500 – mainly in the Des Moines area. Iowa is also worrying that some of their returning evacuees may be carrying mumps down to the gulf.

And the needs of the northern states pale in comparison to places like Florida (estimated 72,000 evacuees) Texas (250,000+ evacuees), or Louisiana itself. Our counterpart in NOLA made it clear that there are still hundreds of missing and unidentified bodies in the morgue, and the commercial, transportation and housing infrastructure is dismal. In a few weeks, school is out. There is a real concern that kids down there won’t have a whole lot to do other than hang out in wrecked neighborhoods or bake in FEMA trailers in asphalt lots that are overwhelmed and under-policed.

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