Informing Redevelopment After Hurricane Katrina

colist at comm-org.wisc.edu colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Sat Sep 24 12:34:39 CDT 2005


[ed:  I am starting to see a number of messages about community 
organizing approaches to rebuilding New Orleans, so I will start a new 
thread here.]

From: sreed at piconetwork.org

Last week Mary managed to get through check points to see her home in 
Ponchatrain Park, where she has lived for 65 years since 
African-Americans first had a chance to own homes in New Orleans. She 
fainted. The home, which had been the center of her extended family, a 
place where children and grandchildren always came back for holidays, 
had been submerged in water for more than a week. She was able to 
salvage one thing, a photo of her grandchildren that for lack of space 
she’d hung just below where the wall hit the ceiling. Mary called her 
insurance agent who asked her how many feet below water was the house. 
She replied that he ought to know since his company wrote the policy. 
The agent told her that despite paying for homeowners insurance and a 
hurricane rider for 65 years, she would get nothing because the damage 
was due to flood not Katrina. Mary says she wants to go home, not alone 
but with family, neighbors and the people from her church who helped her 
survive so much and gave her life meaning.

Last week PICO families and congregations in Louisiana put out a new 
call for help. They asked leaders and organizers from across PICO 
National Network to come to Baton Rouge to support a massive effort to 
help now-scattered New Orleans families come together to have a voice in 
rebuilding their city. New Orleans has long been at the heart of PICO. 
Since the mid-1980’s clergy, community leaders and organizers from New 
Orleans have deeply shaped the culture of our network. In so many ways 
PICO is a product of what we have collectively learned from New Orleans: 
the every day fluency with power, race and politics; the 
African-American church tradition; the unparalleled love of place and 
understanding of how important it is to sustaining strong families.

Thirty volunteer leaders and organizers from California, Massachusetts, 
New Jersey, Florida, Michigan, New York and Colorado began arriving in 
Louisiana on Wednesday. We came with the understanding that with all the 
talk of creating a new New Orleans and "reconfiguring the demographics 
of the city" rebuilding is not just about jobs and homes but also a 
matter of creating hope, reconnecting community and rescuing one of the 
greatest cultural treasures in America, a vibrant African-American 
cultural center.

With another powerful hurricane striking the Gulf Coast, Louisiana faces 
overwhelming needs and limited capacity to rebuild itself. As we write 
this, water is once again pouring into the 9th Ward of New Orleans; 
families displaced by Katrina are yet again on the road searching for 
shelter. Before Katrina, Louisiana, one of the poorest states in the 
nation, failed to meet the basic needs of many of its citizens. Now 
hundreds of thousands of people are living in shelters, still awaiting 
urgent health care, counseling and the basic help they need to rebuild 
their lives.

As PICO leaders and staff have met with displaced families we have heard 
over and over that the same gross failure to protect families from 
Katrina continues to undermine relief efforts. Today at a church shelter 
in Baton Rouge we met with families who described living in a shelter 
without mental health services and health care for traumatized victims. 
They told us of their anger at FEMA, Red Cross and others for repeatedly 
failing to keep promises to provide services and of failing to provide 
any answers of when temporary housing would be available. These are 
families from a community abandoned by the government before Katrina 
struck, left without the ability to get out of the city, sent to a 
shelter that could not protect, finally evacuated to place they could 
not chose and now living in a shelter without any answers about what 
comes next.

Amid the fear and chaos of the past three weeks we have also been awed 
by the commitment of families and congregations in Louisiana to come 
together to rebuild the state and return home to New Orleans. The ties 
that bind families to each other, to their faith communities and to 
place are powerful in this region. In so many ways and from so many 
people we have heard the common cry that despite everything "we’re going 
home."

PICO organizers and leaders visited St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in 
Baton Rouge to meet with 300 Vietnamese families displaced from New 
Orleans. They told us that they wanted to return home to New Orleans, 
and that under the leadership of their pastor they were actively 
organizing to obtain materials and coordinate skilled craftsperson to 
rebuild their church and homes. We heard stories of people moving back 
to their water logged houses in order to not lose their jobs. The 
message of these families, who originally came to America as refugees, 
was that they want to go home to their jobs, churches and community but 
need federal help.

When asked to raise their hands if they intended to return to New 
Orleans, almost all those at St. Anthony’s and other shelters in Baton 
Rouge raised their hands.

Many families who want to rebuild tell the same story we heard from Mary 
of calling their insurance companies and being told that despite paying 
for homeowners insurance and hurricane coverage over many years they 
will not be compensated. Homeowners fear losing their homes to 
foreclosure and renters are afraid of being evicted from houses they 
lived in for 30 years. Although many families want to remain close to 
New Orleans, FEMA is not even asking families where they would like to 
live, but is instead moving forward with massive concentration of 
trailers far from public transportation and job opportunities.

The central lesson of the death and destruction in New Orleans is that 
without power people perish. We know that these disasters are man made; 
the Katrina autopsy will show a string of political decisions that 
exposed those without money and influence to catastrophic danger. So 
much of what we witnessed violated the cornerstone of human society that 
every life has intrinsic value. As PICO has responded to the aftermath 
of Katrina we have acted on the understanding that justice is not just a 
matter of putting the right policies in place or involving the community 
in planning. Doing right by those who died and lost everything means 
insuring that families have the power to define the agenda and control 
the outcome; it means equipping people to reorganize themselves for 
power at a time when everything that held together their families and 
communities has been upended.

On September 12 PICO brought the voices of New Orleans and Louisiana 
families and pastors to Washington, DC, holding a national press 
conference and obtaining commitments from members of Congress that 
displaced families would have a say in federal relief and recovery plans.

On October 4 PICO LIFT is holding a statewide action meeting in Baton 
Rouge to begin rebuilding Louisiana so that families can go home to 
their communities. PICO LIFT leaders are calling on Congress and local 
and state officials to work together with displaced families to make 
sure that all families receive immediate relief that protects their 
health and welfare. PICO LIFT is fighting for federal resources and 
policies that insure families the right to return to New Orleans, to 
project a vision for the future of their city and to receive the jobs 
and economic opportunities that come from rebuilding the city.  PICO 
LIFT is talking with hundreds of displaced families to get their input 
into a comprehensive plan for relief and recovery.

PICO federations from around the nation are traveling to Baton Rouge to 
support Louisiana and take back the message that Congress should do 
right by the Katrina families and not finance the rebuilding of 
Louisiana and the Gulf Coast by cutting the safety net that so many 
families depend on at times of need. Across PICO we are asking "what are 
the levies that could break in our communities and who would be left on 
the roof tops."

In the early days after Katrina struck PICO encouraged people to make 
contributions to the Red Cross and others providing immediate rescue and 
relief; we also created a hotline for congregations to send resources to 
churches in Louisiana that are sheltering families. We continue to 
encourage direct support for sheltering communities.

For those who want to support efforts by Louisiana families to organize 
themselves to return home and have a voice in rebuilding the city and 
state, we have created a Rebuild Louisiana Fund. You can learn more or 
contribute to this fund by contacting John Baumann at 
jbaumann at piconetwork.org (501) 655-2801, 171 Santa Rosa Avenue, Oakland, 
CA 94610. You can also donate online at 
http://www.piconetwork.org/supportpico.asp (select Louisiana Interfaiths 
Together). All funds donated to the Rebuild Louisiana Fund will be used 
to support work by Louisiana Interfaiths Together to reach out to and 
organize families in the state to participate in relief and recovery 
decisions.

PICO National Network has worked since 1972 to give families and 
congregations a voice in decisions that affect their communities. With 
one million families, one thousand faith communities working in 150 
cities and 18 states, PICO is one of the largest and most diverse 
grassroots community efforts in the United States.

Louisiana Interfaiths Together (PICO LIFT) is a state wide umbrella for 
six PICO federations: All Congregations Together-New Orleans, Working 
Interfaith Network-Baton Rouge, Bayou Interfaith Shared Community 
Org.-Houma Thibodaux, Congregations Organizing People for 
Equity-Lafayette, Delta Interfaith Network-Lake Providence, Hope 
Ministries-Point Coupee Parish.

Sincerely,

Scott Reed, National Director of Organizing, PICO National Network



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