I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catchers mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. -Maya Angelou
In this issue:
- NOLA Report, Part I
Gamers for Humanity has returned from another trip to the city of New Orleans, and wow, is there a lot to talk about this year. I apologize for not getting updates posted to the website during the week, but internet access at the hostel was spotty this year. As a result, I will be sending out a short series of newsletters discussing the trip, and the situation on the ground in NOLA. We learned a lot this year, and I suspect most people have no idea how bad things still are.
First, the basics. We spent the week working with the United Saints Recovery Project, a grassroots non-profit operating out of the Central City neighborhood (If you have a map of New Orleans, this is a neighborhood to the west of the Superdome). The USRP works, as many such organizations do, to bring home New Orleans residents who were evacuated during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. That's right: six and a half years later, and we are still dealing with Katrina recovery, on a large scale.
Recently, the USRP have also been focusing efforts on helping the people of their community avoid the harsh fines the city has been levying on the poorest of homeowners. If your house is not kept up to a minimum level of repair, you are fined. If your grass is too long, you are fined. If you are gutting your house and the debris stays in your yard too long, you are fined. If your fences are not kept in shape, you are fined.
These fines run from $300 to $500 per day. And they are being levied against the poorest of citizens, those who can least afford them.
Such was the project we were assigned to: Keidra’s house. The USRP has worked over recent weeks to repair and repaint the exterior of her house, to help her avoid those fines. But the house is still unlivable, and so we were assigned to gut the house—tear out the drywall, plaster, and lath, and make the structure ready for plumbing and wiring. It took us all week, and three entire dumpsters, but we did it. We don’t know what the next steps taken will be—it depends on what funds she has available to her. But the house is ready for those next steps.
You might think, given that it had to be gutted, that Keidra’s house was flooded all those years ago. But it wasn’t. The damage was Katrina-related, to be sure. But it wasn’t flooding. While Keirda was evacuated to another part of the country, along with most of the rest of New Orleans’ population, squatters moved in—homeless people. Whether they were homeless before the storms or made homeless by the storms is unclear. But they moved in while Keidra was away…and trashed the place. They destroyed or stole many of her valuables, and caused enough damage to the house that we had to gut it.
This house was also a livelihood—it was also a daycare for neighborhood children.
Keidra is also under the gun from the city, who are telling her that she has to raise her house—a house that was not flooded in the storms—before she can receive her Road Home money. Word is that the city decision-makers are being influenced by a developer who wants the house, and wants to force her to sell it rather than move back in. Another instance of the abuse of power by the influential in New Orleans. But that’s for another issue in this series.
We were blessed with another excellent group of volunteers this year—hard-working and happy to be giving of their time and energy. In terms of sheer hours of work put into Katrina recovery, New Orleans owes a lot more to volunteers than it does to the government at any level, and we were proud of the work our volunteers did. I hope that they, in return, were able to see why New Orleans is an important city, a city that needs to be preserved, and were able to learn about the complex web of social problems and culture that lies behind all the difficulties. I know that they were able to meet some of the wonderful citizens of the city, experience the unique culture, and I was told specifically that this would not be the last time some of them would be back to help.
In the next issue of the newsletter, I’ll start illustrating some of the social justice issues that lie behind the continuing recovery from one of the greatest man-made disasters our country has ever seen.
Thank you once more to all our donors who helped to make this trip more affordable for our volunteers. Bring able to take a week of your time to help others is a rare privilege, but helping those who do have the time get to where they need to go is just as important. Thanks also once again to All Nations Baptist Church of Iowa City for the use of the old trusty van--once more into the breach.
Tom JavoroskiPresident, Gamers for Humanity
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