Wednesday, May 31, 2006

FEMA to send volunteers packing

NEW ORLEANS--If anyone is laboring under the impression that a reinvigorated FEMA is prepared for future disasters, then consider the agency's decision to close camps that have housed thousands of volunteers assisting with the ongoing recovery. Like HUD's attempt to end housing assistance for people whose destroyed homes it declared habitable, its clear Washington still has no idea has happened on the coast or a realistic appraisal of the current situtation.

In today's Times-Picayune, FEMA spokesman Ross Fredenburn says "[we]e are firmly committed to shutting down the camps by June 1. Demand has diminished to the point we feel we can do that. State and local entities can take up whatever needs remain."

Perhaps Mr. Fredenburn should be given an all-expense paid weeks' vacation in St. Bernard Parish, on a generous per diem. The only condition is that he not be allowed to leave the parish during that entire time, but should find housing and meals there. As the T-P explains:

"Without volunteers, we're out of business," said Col. David Dysart, a Marine reservist in charge of the recovery project in St. Bernard Parish, where 67,000 people live. Dysart said St. Bernard, the hardest-hit parish in the region, with all of its 40,000 structures seriously damaged or destroyed, has no way to house or feed volunteers.

"In St. Bernard, we have no infrastructure. Nothing," Dysart said. "All of our churches are devastated. We have no hospitals. No supermarkets. The schools are destroyed."

Camp Premier is about all there is in St. Bernard, except for a dollar store, a Home Depot and a few bars. "We literally have nowhere for volunteers to go," Dysart said.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that still We Are Not OK. For me, it is just a matter of an after dinner walk, passing around the (encouraging) debris piles andalso past houses still unattended to up to the shopping mail profiled here by Editor B under the title Nine Months After Katrina.

I still haven't ventured down through the Ninth Ward to St. Benard, where I worked for two years for a local newspaper as reporter and editor. I've only been home two days, but on prior trips I had other priorities, such as closing on a house and groveling in the hallways of charter schools for space for my children. Avoiding that trip down Judge Perez Drive down to Highway 300 and out to the End of the World is the easy path, because of the strong affection I have for the place and people, even after 25 years.

It doesn't take a tremendous effort to know how slow and painful the recovery is, that 123,000 families are still waiting for some settlement of their homes. Anyone who chooses to know can't escape the fact. That makes it all the more amazing that, in spite of a few superficial changes at the top, the federal officials involved in recovery clearly remain clueless as to actual conditions on the ground, and unable or worse unwilling to provide what is needed.

While its entirely possible that vast swaths of office space in D.C. is populated by tongue-dragging-on-the-floor idiots, its much more likely that the federals continuing wish is that we simple go away. We are on our own.

Still, if the federals insist that we are to be left alone with only our own bootstraps to lift ourselves up by, then we should expect and demand the one resource that makes that possible: the same deal other states receive for revenue sharing from oil-and-gas production on federal lands. That, and full and fair compensation for the results of the failure of the federal levees.

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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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