Monthly Archives: March 2008

HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson Victim Of Voodoo Curse?

I got a chuckle out of this e-mail being circulated among New Orleans housing activists this morning. Santa may need more security in his e-mail:

Dear Santa:

Thank you, thank you for the Alphonso Jackson voodoo doll, all stick-pin accessories included!

Not wanting to be greedy, but considering how successful this device has been, if you could please give me an advance on my 2008 David Vitter doll.

Ever so grateful for 44 years of wonderful presents!

Eclipse of the Heart Part 2 – Home Is Where The Heart Is

EDITOR’S NOTE: Several weeks ago, a hurricane survivor sent a very well-written, poignant letter to Katrina Connection (see Eclipse of the Heart: Shattered Dreams). It deserved to be published – unedited. It touched the hearts of many others, including myself. Here is a second letter – unedited – and the name says it all (Thank you, Joyce):

I have been seeking work now for 3 months, but we are living in a town of 900 people, and there are very, very few business where one can get employment. My husband has been walking to work, and his paycheck is enough to cover our monthly bills, but not much more than that.

When I said that we had the chance to come down again? It is on the prayer that I get work soon. I have applied for work at every place possible, which isn’t many due to not having a vehicle. So far? I’m not working, and it’s maddening, truly, sitting at home and waiting for something better to happen, for something… period…

We don’t have much, my husband and I… but we have each other. He has waited as I underwent surgery, worried about the tiniest thing going wrong. I have been quiet through bouts of insomnia so that he could rest… and no matter how bad things get… I still have peace in falling asleep next to him, with his arm around me. We’ve been without food for days on end… without a car for over a year now… without power, water, or heat… and still, re-reading what I wrote, our story about Katrina, hurts me more than all of that combined.

It’s hard when you struggle, and fight, and claw at the walls and rocks surrounding you, yet all you get is injuries, and stuck deeper in the pit. When all your dreams hinge on one tiny break… and can be broken on it just the same.

There are days when all I want is another chance, to go back, and change things in my life. To not be so scared, so shy, so worried… there are times when I wish I would’ve made a different decision…

For now, New Orleans lives in my heart. It lives in a dream that gets foggy and begins to fade upon the dawn. The sun rises, and I realize that I’m not in that place, but here, surrounded by cold… where we have electrical problems we can’t afford to fix, plumbing problems that are the same, holes in the floor that need replaced… it breaks me.

Everyday I wake from that dream, and I am broken, battered, and bruised by the events of the day. Every night I fall asleep and smell the flowers again, and hear the sounds… of my home.

One day we’ll be there. It may take us 40 years, but one day we will be home again… It’s the thought at the edge of my mind every day, as I look at rentals in New Orleans, and photographs, and videos… I watch documentaries about the city, Katrina, the history… I listen to the stories, see the people… it consumes me.

Yet, despite my all consuming love of what I consider my home, I am attacked, berated, and dragged down by people who call themselves ‘true New Orleanians,’ those that feel I don’t belong, because of my upbringing, or the inflection I put on certain words. People feel that because I’m a ‘white girl’ that my parents have money, and so should I… that if I considered it my ‘home,’ that I’d have been there already.

People assume things of me, just because I’m white, and don’t speak with a southern drawl.

We have no one, we rely on ourselves… and as anyone that has ever been married, or in their 20s, can tell you… when you have to rely on yourself, it’s a struggle just to breathe sometimes. Moving across the country is a different struggle altogether, it requires time, planning, money…

No matter what anyone says, one day I will live in New Orleans, and I will finally be home, and be able to fall asleep with my husband next to me… and wake up and not have my heart broken. People can attack me verbally, try to break me down… but I know where I belong. They can call me names, assume whatever they wish… but assumptions aren’t true just because someone decided they were.

What is true? I’m 27 years old, as of about a month ago. I’ve had 2 relatively invasive surgeries already in my life. I was lucky enough to meet my soulmate when I was 22, and we were married when I was 23. I don’t know for sure, because of health issues (private), if I’ll be able to have children of my own, but for now I have 2 dogs, and some cats. I have trouble sleeping if my great dane isn’t curled up next to me, as he’s been doing it since he was tiny and could fit between the pillows. My family doesn’t speak to each other unless it involves screaming, and so I moved out right after I graduated. My heart aches everytime I hear certain songs on the radio, and ‘The Notebook’ makes me want to cry because it reminds me of my grandparents. I found out today that my grandmother has a serious health issue, and can’t live on her own anymore, and must move into a nursing home… and it breaks my heart, because I know that it will break her spirit, and that she will pass away soon, and I’ll lose her. Everytime I smell black-eyed-peas I assume I’m going to smell cornbread as well, because my grandfather used to cook those things all the time before he passed away, and had for years. (He was from Arkansas… and I miss him every day.)

Right now, as I write this, I am crying… thinking about loss, and loved ones, and wanting to be home.

I just want something to go ‘right,’ to be ‘easy,’ and to feel like it’s home again. I want to be in a place that feels like sanctuary, where I want to take my clothes out of boxes (finally) and hang pictures on the walls.

I’m not sure what else to say… just that right now, I feel broken, as if the world has misplaced me, and forgotten to care.

If anyone reads this, and it touches you in some way… please feel free to write me, I could use a friend right now.

-Joyce Woodward

Louisiana Crawfish Fest Returns to old St. Bernard spot

Dem ol’ mudbugs ain’t had nothin’ on the thousands of their fans who swamped the Louisiana Crawfish Festival in St. Bernard over the weekend to eat ‘em up.

The second fest since hurricane Katrina had crawfish inside everything but upside down cake, from etoufee or gumbo to po-boys or barbecued. Here’s the scoop (with just a couple of pictures). Now why didn’t you send some of your pictures?

Katrina kids have a chance at $100000 to build a house

If you are a New Orleans area hurricane survivor aged 8-18 years old, listen up. A New Orleans area construction company is trying to get the word out that they’ll give $100000 in materials and labor to a lucky (and smart) New Orleans area youngster.

Just write an essay on all the good reasons you think your family deserves to have it. Read more about this contest at www.katrinaconnection.com/Business.html.

Katrina exhibit going on in Gulfport

A hurricane Katrina photo exhibit in Gullfport is drawing visitors and attention to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where Katrina’s destruction was especially felt.

The exhibit, being called a Katrina museum, at the downtown Gulfport branch of Hancock Bank (one of the sponsors), is not meant to celebrate destruction but to show the strength and resilency of survivors from Katrina.

Gulfport’s Fire Chief Pat Sullivan and his firefighter son Brian contributed eyewitness photos to the exhibit, a brainstorm of the Gulfport Main Street Association. It is free and open to the public.

Vehicle Slams Into Pedestrians And Concession Truck

NEW ORLEANS (March 23, 2008) — New Orleans media reported that three people were shot in New Orleans on Saturday, maintaining the “New Orleans brand” name. Since no mention was found in local media of an incident which should be reported to the public due to its severity (and also as a reminder to drive carefully) the following is an account, to the best of my recollection, from the scene:

An accident on Saturday at Martin Luther King Blvd. and S. Claiborne Avenue around 3:25 PM injured two pedestrians and the driver of a cotton candy concession truck parked at a sidewalk corner. One man appeared to be seriously injured, lying next to the rear wheels of the concession truck.

A vehicle driven by a woman with a toddler inside traveling eastbound on South Claiborne Avenue careened into the parking lot of a closed Church’s Chicken restaurant. According to witnesses one of those injured was a woman selling easter baskets from an SUV parked inside the parking lot and near the concession truck at the corner. The woman was lying face down as a man on a cell phone tried to comfort her and emergency personnel arrived on the scene.

Another victim, a man about 40 years old, who appeared to be the most seriously injured, was lying face down in a large pool of blood beside the rear wheels near a large gaping hole in the concession truck as police and EMTs arrived on the scene. The full extent of his injuries was unknown, but he had a huge gash across the forehead and was barely conscious.

The concession truck driver was conscious but walking with a bloodied leg and face. The driver of the vehicle that crashed into the sidewalk and the toddler did not appear to be injured. The cause of the accident or actual conditions of the victims are not known.

Please remember to always drive alert, safely, carefully, and defensively, especially during any holiday season.

Confessions of a New Orleans Census Worker (I’ll come knockin’ even if the FEMA trailer’s rockin’)

Good and bad news for New Orleans. The good news is that Orleans and adjoining St. Bernard, two of the hardest-hit areas from flooding caused by levee breaches after hurricane Katrina, are the fastest growing parishes (counties) in the nation (see story here). The bad news is that the news is not good enough for New Orleans.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, based on births, deaths, and changes of address using IRS and Medicare forms, the Orleans parish post-Katrina population  increased from 210,198 in July 2006 to 239,124 in July 2007. However GCR & Associates placed the city’s July 2007 population at about 281,000 while the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center pegged the population at 302,000 as of July, 2007.

New Orleans officials are not pleased at all and say the city will lose $9.3 million in federal financing during the next three years for every 10,000 residents uncounted by the Census Bureau, and the city is mounting a formal challenge to the Census Bureau’s estimates (disclaimer: I had no part in collecting the data used by the Census Bureau for this population count). 

Looking at the big picture, however, it’s really funny what some folks will do when a U.S.Census Bureau employee knocks or rings the doorbell. Example: car in driveway, air conditioner humming, pitter-patter of the feet, TV blasting. Nobody answers. Or, they don’t have time. Or, say they don’t live at the address. Some people hide out as if the IRS or FBI were after them.

Oh, it can be rather frustrating at times. Like the postman, census workers encounter dogs. But this is not the major obstacle facing the census workers of today. People’s lack of cooperation is probably the major problem. A blunt realization of what results from their lack of cooperation may come sooner or later, but by then it’s too late for their community.

Too late for their beloved city or state to add congressional delegates, or get funding for that street repair work. Too late for that new school they so desperately need, or that developer to know there actually are, in fact, enough families in the area to support the retail stores the developer considered building. Too late for the non-profit community organizations to get enough federal grant money for their programs.

It’s all tied in to the Census Bureau’s data. I like to think of participating in a census survey as a basic American civil liberty akin to voting. A way to have a say-so in government decision-making, and to help us all make informed decisions. Let’s face it – information collected by the bureau is compiled into a database that’s used to calculate how much federal funding goes to a given municipality, how many congressional delegates a state is allowed, and many other things, among them per capita income or cost of living.

Most of us are rightfully protective of our privacy, and for good reason. Identity theft is prevalent in this country. But, many people are also leery of giving Uncle Sam personal information, as though the feds can’t find out as much as they want to about anyone, without using census information. Some people either don’t come to the door, don’t give truthful answers to questions, give intentionally misleading statements, or just plain refuse to talk to a census representative.

If there are more people in a rental household than the lease allows, many folks will not divulge their presence, as if the property owner will find out. Then there are those who feel as if their personal nformation is shared with the IRS. These are myths. Census Bureau data is protected under Title 13 laws, which gives anonymity and protection of any information collected by the bureau.

So, to help with a more accurate population count, city officials throughout the nation should encourage their citizens to help the Census Bureau by cooperating with any surveys, and the next time a properly identified U.S. Census Bureau rep comes knocking, don’t start blocking, because it can affect your quality of life.

 

A coup for the Crescent City

In what may not be the biggest, but one of the most interesting and intriguing coups for the city of New Orleans, a convention has moved the site of its scheduled annual gathering way down yonder, from Detroit to New Orleans. The story the group is trying to avoid continues to get juicier.

The National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) recently changed the location of their annual gathering, which draws as many as 2500 mayors and staff, citing a scandal involving text messages.

The Detroit City Council on Tuesday asked Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick to resign because of evidence that he lied under oath and tried to cover up an extramarital affair with his former chief of staff Christine Beatty, whereas they allegedly exchanged cell phone text messages using city accounts. Kilpatrick has said he will not step down.

At a deposition in a lawsuit filed against the city by a whistle-blower, Kilpatrick denied he had an affair. Yet evidence has surfaced that he may have lied under oath, which would be a felony charge.

But that wasn’t the only thing held over Kilpatrick’s head. Recently, during his state of the city address, Kilpatrick said the media had a “lynch-mob” mentality toward him, and he used the “N” word to describe racial messages he said were directed at him. Detroit was the same city where the NAACP held a “funeral” for the “N” word, with Kilpatrick participating in ceremonies.

In light of a chocolate-loving mayor who recently said he is “vagina-friendly” will the New Orleans city council ask Mayor C. Ray Nagin to step down? While this can hardly be considered a scandal, the “V” word was still on everyone’s mind and barely out of his lips as Nagin made his annual trek to Washington, D.C.

One can only hope this revelation does not make conventioneers, businesses, or federal lawmakers alter decisions to hold conventions, do business, or help with recovery in New Orleans.

My Katrina journal

Hi Katrina Connection readers,

I spent a lot of time in Louisiana during and after Katrina as a Red Cross volunteer, and to say the experience changed my life would be a big understatement. You can read all my journals at www.miller-family.com/katrina. I wish the people of Louisiana, and especially New Oreans, the very best.

j’Orel Miller

In the money

Dirty bastards. How could they? What the @&!*@!?? These are just a few of the thoughts that came to mind on hearing that ICF, a Virginia company contracted to run the Louisiana Road Home program, is in the money while 56,000 homeowners are still out of a home.
Imagine that.

Something just doesn’t seem right about a deal where a company gets $914 million dollars to run a program but two and a half years after hurricane Katrina they still haven’t got rebuilding funds to the people who need it most.

The homeowners who can’t even get phone calls returned by ICF are suffering, especially the ones who are living in box-like FEMA trailers in front of their ruined homes. That’s where many of the FEMA trailers still out there issued to Katrina survivors are. And these taxpaying American citizens deserve much better. Hotel rooms just won’t do, either. They don’t want charity, FEMA trailers, or hotel rooms. They only want to rebuild homes they’ve worked so hard to acquire and maintain.

The Good Suffer With The Bad

It’s a sad time in America when police officers deliberately defraud the Red Cross. But we already know yet sometimes forget that law enforcement officers, celebrities, politicians, and other role models are people too. And of course, when bad things are done by those society deems to be “good” people, it may be surprising at first and we sometimes lose our trust in them.

According to press reports, Tracie Denise Bell and Kirshondra Richardson, Houston police officers, received $160,000 to run a basketball camp for what they allegedly claimed were 310 Katrina evacuees. Problem is, they somehow added more days than the camp actually operated in and 300 more than the 10 kids that in reality took part in the camp.

Numerous cases of fraud against FEMA or the Red Cross have surfaced in the past two and a half years, with some publicly known cases appearing to be people who were not victims of hurricane Katrina at all. While surely some hurricane survivors have cheated the system in one way or another, the vast majority of survivors were deserving of any assistance they received.

In the case of these two police officers, they are women who took advantage of their public duties to get funds provided by a charitable organization. What they did with the money remains to be seen, but each face up to a possible 20 years in prison if convicted of the theft charges.

Americans seem to remember atrocities or bad things, but sometimes tend to not remember the good. We know there were dishonest Katrina evacuees, and others who caused problems in the benevolent cities that welcomed them in the beginning. But does America also know that many thousands of evauees were honest, hard-working tax-paying citizens? That many at least had paychecks in their pockets or in the bank when Katrina hit? Does America know that a majority of evacuees are also offended by unwelcome or rude troublemaking evacuees in cities that took them in?

Are most Americans offended by those who take advantage of a system set up to help people? Of course we are! Surely the Houston Police Department is rightfully ashamed and offended by the actions of two of their officers. And they must suffer the stigma of it, just as any groups associated with wrongdoers purged from their ranks.

In reality, when bad things are done by good people, other good people suffer with them.

Eclipse of the Heart: Shattered Dreams

Katrina Connection received this humbling, poignant letter that epitomizes the ongoing struggles of displaced New Orleans residents and expatriates:

Since I was a child, I have always adored New Orleans. The older I got, the more it felt like it was where I was ‘meant to be.’ I was thrilled when I met the person I was to spend my life with, and that he shared that sentiment with me.

We were married in May of 2004, and began to plan our move, something we knew would take a while.

We paid our deposit, first and last months rent, and packed our things. Then Katrina hit, and the house we were planning to live in got 10 feet of water. Ever since we’ve been trying to find a way ‘home,’ and it’s been an extreme struggle since we had to sell many items in order to find a place to live. (We lost $3,000 on the house, as well as the cost of the truck rental, etc.) We’d already given notice, so we had to move, and had no choice in the matter.

My husband and I both had jobs lined up in NOLA, and as we weren’t there, lost those opportunities. We’ve had many struggles, health issues, financial… my husband now works in healthcare, and once again we are hoping to be able to relocate, to go home, to New Orleans. He already has 3 job offers, as the need is so great, and I want to work at whatever job I can find and do some serious volunteer work to rebuild that beautiful city.

Everyone who pays attention, who reads about it, or listens, knows the stories of so many of the survivors of the storm, who lived through it in New Orleans. But not many people are interested in the stories of those affected in other parts of the country, like my husband and myself. No one realizes the cost to people like us, who haven’t owned a car for years because we had to sell it to find a place to live, or had to sell our furniture. We are left with clothing and personal items. We were lucky–we could’ve lost everything, personal items included… but at the same time we are horribley unlucky, as no one cares about our story. No one is interested in helping us get to NOLA, no matter how much good we would do for the city. No one cares that we lost over $3,000 to a crooked landlord that refused to refund our money, or that we slept in our car for days before we could move into our new place, with 2 feet of snow on the ground outside.

And that’s crushing to me. It’s crushing to my soul, and my spirit. New Orleans is my home, no matter wether I grew up there or not. New Orleans is more than a city, it is a culture. It is the sound of a trumpet playing a jazz melody, or the sound of hoofs on old roads, or just neighbors getting together for food and companionship in a backyard. The city has a soul, and it’s in me… and no one cares about our loss.

I don’t know if this letter will fall on deaf ears. I don’t know if anyone will read this, or if everyone will read this and think that I’m being whiney. If I had the means, I’d have been in New Orleans, on a boat, with water, and food, pulling people off of roofs. I’d have done whatever I could have to help, but the storm hurt me as well.

But I pray that someone will read this, and understand. I pray that someone out there will think of me, and my husband, and others who were effected by the storm.

I pray that one day, the soul and the spirit of the city will return. That it’s culture, and the people who love it like my husband and myself, will one day be able to live again in the city that’s rythym matches that of their own heart.

I pray every day for those that are still struggling, and hope that they find peace and are able to start living again.

And I hope, beyond all odds, that one day I will be able to fall asleep every night in the city that has been my home since I was a child and first started dreaming of the smell of magnolias.

-Joyce Woodward

I am an eager volunteer arriving shortly.

My name is Derek Dunham and I am both an activist and a cyclist. My birthday falls on August 29th, the day hurricane katrina touched down in New Orleans. Ever since then I have felt a drive to get down there and help, but I had not been able to yet.

Skybus has tickets from Greensboro, NC to New Orleans, LA for only 40 dollars. I want to fly, and then either ship a bike to myself, or acquire one while I am there, possibly through a collective. There are a couple in the city. Ideal situation would be to have one waiting for me so I could have transportation while I am there, but I am seeking a touring bike, because when I leave, I want to pedal back.

I don’t yet know exactly how I am going to help, or what organization, if any, I will work through. I would love to get involved with Brad Pitt’s project, but I don’t even know if that would be possible. I also really want to look into getting my ride back sponsored somehow. I would like to be able to make money for the causes I work with as well as help them while I’m there. If anyone has any suggestions or advice as to how I might be able to pull this off, I’d really appreciate it.

dsdunham

“The Storm Inside”

Examines Hurricane Katrina Survivors Challenging Yet Sometimes Triumphant Journey From New Orleans To Their New Homes and Lives In Houston

An Estimated 200,000 People Fled to Houston After The Storm Devastated Their City.

Nearly Three Years Later, Many Remain And Are Still Trying Recover

After the storm, the country pledged never to forget the lessons of Katrina,
and yet we have already moved on – Marc Morial, President/CEO of the National Urban League.

Houston, TX – Following one of the worst natural and humanitarian disasters to ever hit American soil, hundreds of thousands of Americans were transported out of New Orleans to cities around the country. Most of the evacuees took asylum in Houston. Today, Houston is still home for many of the survivors who desperately want to move beyond the storm.
The Storm Inside, is a hurricane of a documentary that has all of the elements necessary to inspire movement. Katrina became more powerful as it became organized. “The Storm Inside” our city and inside our survivors forced Houston to organize it’s social service system and forced the survivors of Hurricane Katrina to organize their lives and priorities in order to survive in their new environment.
The Storm Inside will sweep you away with the politics of disaster response, the hospitality of a neighboring city, the ongoing struggle for both communities to live as one and countless stories of loss, sadness, victory and hope. This documentary takes an intimate look inside the lives of displaced survivors living in and around Houston nearly three years after the floodwaters created their new reality.
Unlike other post-Katrina documentaries, The Storm Inside focuses on the survivors’ collective story of starting over in the fourth largest city in the country and their challenges. It seeks to answer the question “why don’t they just go home” and make Americans aware of their efforts and the roadblocks they continue to face. This is also a story about a large metropolitan city pooling its resources to provide the necessary support and care for its new residents.
Through hours and hours of interviews and conversations, the unanswered questions of recovery go far beyond the survivors and victims of Hurricane Katrina. The compelling stories should inspire all Americans to demand answers from our government about polices that govern disaster response and long term plans for recovery. Houston may very well become an example for cities around the country as it relates to handling catastrophic disasters.
Ruqayya Gibson, the Director and Executive Producer, has been intimately involved with the survivors since the first buses arrived at the Astrodome. As Executive Director of one of the agencies collaborating to provide services and on-going support, she knows first hand what the challenges and successes are. “After working with so many survivors, getting to know them and seeing what they’ve endured I really wanted to tell their story,” Gibson said. “No one has ever told the story of what’s happening in Houston for both the survivors and the city and that’s what inspired me to create The Storm Inside. Whether we realize it or not, we have all been changed by Hurricane Katrina.”