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Monday, August 14, 2006

Katrina Eleven Months Later

As we approach the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I am sharing a post from my friend and fellow blogger Shayne Newell (General Thoughts), who gave me permission to copy it for Monday Mission Moment. Shayne, an elder in my church and young mother of two lively toddler-age sons, spends her “spare” time as an attorney with a large Houston law firm. Recently, she volunteered her expertise to help some of the many Katrina victims in the Houston area, through the Houston Young Lawyers Association' and wrote about her experiences on her blog.

Shayne's experience reminds us not only that the consequences of that tragic event are still with us, but that there are lots of opportunities for mission and service with professional associations and community groups as well as from churches. Thank you, Shayne, for agreeing to share your experience with the RevGalBlogPals.

Katrina Evacuees -- Eleven Months Later

I spent yesterday morning volunteering at a housing clinic for Katrina and Rita evacuees who had been denied FEMA rental assistance. I admit that I went into it with some skepticism. It has been almost a year since the disasters. Surely these people could have gotten back on their feet enough to pay their own rent if they really wanted to. But work is somewhat slow, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to do some pro bono legal work. I didn't know anything about FEMA appeals before I got there, but I learned fast!

After getting some on-the-job training, I was sent to a huge room where attorneys were working one-on-one with people who had been denied assistance and wanted to file an appeal with FEMA. As it turns out, FEMA had been denying people aid for ridiculous reasons. For instance, a FEMA inspector was sent to survey the damage at a particular residence in New Orleans and denied rental assistance because the resident did not show up to meet the inspector. Of course, many of them are living in Houston and many other places throughout the country and are without the means to travel to New Orleans. Sometimes FEMA didn't give any reason at all for denying rental assistance.

The appeal papers take time to fill out and were confusing, even for me. I spent a good deal of time with a man named Troy. As he filled out his paperwork, I glanced at his birthday: February 29, 1976. He's 3 1/2 years younger than I am, but I never would have guessed it by his appearance. Incidentally, in non-leap years, he celebrates his birthday on both February 28 and March 1st. I told him that sounded like the best birthday of all -- 2 days long!

Anyway, in working with him, I learned that he evacuated New Orleans literally with nothing except the clothes on his back. He was extremely nice and good natured, despite all he had been through. He doesn't appear to have much education and his income is minimal. After FEMA cut off his rental assistance and he got evicted, his ex-girlfriend was gracious enough to take him in. She had also evacuated to Houston and her FEMA assistance is still in place. I didn't ask what kind of work he did, but he said that immediately before Hurricane Katrina was the "slow season" at work, so he wasn't bringing in much money. Other than a few months' rent, which was cut off in March, he has received no FEMA assistance other than the $2000 voucher that was distributed to all the evacuees last fall.

I tried to imagine what my life would be like if I left Houston right now with nothing except the clothes I'm wearing and whatever is in my purse (at the moment, that includes no cash except a few coins) and went to Tulsa. I don't know anyone there and wouldn't know where to start -- how do I find a place to live, furnish it, find transportation, feed myself, and find a job, particularly if I have no education and few vocational skills? In what circumstances would I find myself a year from now? I think it very likely that I'd be sitting down across the table from a volunteer attorney at a housing clinic sponsored by Legal Aid and asking for help.

It's easy for those of us unaffected by the hurricanes to feel that it's time that people moved on with their lives. I think that most of them are moving on, or trying to, but it can't happen on some artificial timetable. I pray that, as the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, those of us who have not had to suffer through this particular tragedy will be reminded that rebuilding an entire life (in Troy's case, 30 years) can't be accomplished in a matter of months.

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  1. This is a WONDERFUL post. Great ministry. I don't think any of us who haven't been through this can possibly imagine what a crushing blow it has been to SO many.

    I've just received an email from the local Medical Relief Corps (with which I volunteer) to help with a "Katrina Anniversary Celebration" (!!!) for evacuees and responders on the 26th August. I'm having a hard time imagining how this can be celebrated, but I will be there and try.

  2. What an amazing ministry QG, it is as you say hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those who have lived through such tradgedy- having their live literally turned upside down.
    Thank you to you and all the others who continue to minister to these folk in so many ways.

  3. QG, thank you for your ministry with hurricane folks. Yes, you'd think a year would fix it all but I see piles of debris, ruined homes and misery everytime I venture outside of our home. Not enough workers yet to fix homes. The PDA camp across the street is low on volunteers until September. Then the church volunteers return to help us. God bless all those who help us!


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