Sunday, April 02, 2006

FEMA to expel volunteers from NOLA

In another dizzying twist in the alternate reality in which FEMA operates, the organization is moving to close camps housing thousands of volunteers helping with recovery efforts in the New Orleans area.

In a story reported by WWL-TV's online site but not picked up by the Times-Picayune, FEMA has announced that tent sites housing over 3,000 volunteers will close April 10 and 11. "FEMA originally had contracts for about the last six months to operate three camps in the New Orleans areas, and the contracts run out mid-April,” said FEMA representative Leo Skinner.

“Right now the biggest issue for us, especially coming up this summer when every youth group in the country wants to come down here, is where are we going to house them, where are we going to put them, where are we going to feed them?” questioned Aaron Arledge with the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

“The tent cities are critical in maintaining that level of volunteerism. If they are shut down or they go away, we’re going to have two alternatives. We’re either going to lose hundreds of hard working, willing volunteers, or we’re going to have to scramble to find other housing for them,” said Jim Pate with
Habitat for Humanity.
The only other media coverage has been by the Christian Broadcasting Network and a posting/discussion thread on the liberal political site TPM Cafe. Many of the volunteers come from church groups or liberal action groups, two groups not used to sharing showers and cafeterias.

The CBN story quotes Lt. Colonel David Dysart, director of recovery for St. Bernard Parish, on the need for continued volunteer support. "It's critical that we keep this up. We have approximately 800 homes to date that we've managed to move these items, out of the approximately 5,000 that applied.”

The story adds this: "The Lt. Colonel says it is going to take another six months to finish gutting thousands of homes to remove health and safety hazards. And that's where volunteers come in. Dysart says it takes 10 to 12 volunteers a day to a day-and-a-half to gut just one house."

Over the Spring break period, thousands of college students descended on the area to spend their time off from school in recovery activities, including the grueling and often gruesome work of gutting the homes of the poor and elderly.

In additional to traditional aid and missionary groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Salvation Army, new civic or political groups have descended on the area, or actually be created out of the aftermath of Katrina. Once such group,, is running a kitchen serving residents and volunteers in St. Bernard Parish.

It is great to see groups with a clear conservative agenda, such as the SBC and those with a liberal bent such as Common Ground Collective united on some common cause, the rescue of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. That is what defines us, more than anything else, as Americans, our ability to unite for a common civic goal. Our current leadership (in both parties) increasingly thwarts that, as it is oppugnant to their political strategy of divide and conquer. New Orleans offers an opportunity for people of good will to overcome that, to demonstrate that in the face of a challenge, Americans can still unite and do good.

FEMA once welcomed volunteers, as this 2003 press release point out. No longer. The agency is now just another tool in the arsenal of a political faction that sees every function of government as a means to a political end, even if that end is inimical to the agency's purpose.

If FEMA closes these camps, we will be reminded again that it is the policy of the central government to just make the Gulf Coast problem go away without any real solution. They don't want recovery. They want a functioning port and oil-and-gas infrastructure, nothing more. They already have that, and we can expect the federals to continue to retreat from the scene as soon as possible.

Only the good will of Americans of the sort who fill these camps can change that.


N.B. Today's new word is oppugnant. I love it's immediate association in my mind with something that doesn't smell right. If you think its insulting to link to a definition of an unfamiliar term, let me know and I will cut it out. But when I have recourse to a thesaurus, I always find myself wasting fifteen minutes browsing through the lists discovering new words. I have the same problem with dictionaries, especially my mammoth turn of the 19th century Oxford English Dictionary.

I'll take a short break from frustratedly banging my head against my computer monitor to thank you for "oppugnant." New, useful and evocative words always welcome.

OK, back to banging... this time the keyboard.
I've been doing some "taxi service" out to Camp Premier to drop off a friend who cooks and lives there (since his home is not livable and doesn't have a car either) for the past few weeks. He says it's all up in the air about what's going to happen - there's rumors that they're going to move the volunteers into a school. I don't know about the thousands - he said Camp Premier was due to feed 400 this week.
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