Friday, September 15, 2006

Of Houston and New Orleans and Katrina

Yesterday Democracy Now! was in Houston, talking, of course, about Katrina:

BRODERICK BAGERT: Well, the main issues we're dealing with today is a mode of operating on the part of FEMA. FEMA's theory of how people get back on their feet is that what they need is the maximum amount of anxiety and pressure for them to be sufficiently motivated to find housing and jobs. And since the month after the storm, when through the hard work and organizing of a whole leadership team from New Orleans that we started organizing in the Astrodome, we've been able to have housing in Houston. In fact, the largest and most successful public housing system set up in the shortest period of time was right here, under the -- with a lot of organizing going on and the direction of some local political leaders....

[O]ur country knows how to handle this kind of situation. We do so every year with foreign political refugees. And so, if people are from a war-torn area and are registered as foreign political refugees, then they have guaranteed housing for up to 18 months, job placement, case management, people who are coming from incredibly difficult situations and who don't speak English. And we do that for 50,000 to 100,000 people every year. We know how.

Now, unfortunately, that is not the program that's been in place for our own citizens. And so, what needs to happen is to move to a resettlement model, where people are given the same benefits, the same rights, the same kind of support that have been proven to be successful for the program that exists under Health and Human Services, the federal government, for foreign political refugees. It's a program that's so successful that it's invisible and seamless.

But FEMA is set up for a three-month disaster recovery model and has no capacity, has never had capacity, to deal with a disaster that doesn't fit those sets of rules. So what we have been pushing for and organizing for is legislation at the federal level, first of all, just to make sure that people don't lose housing, and in the medium to long-term, legislation at the federal level that creates this resettlement package for evacuees, where people are given guaranteed housing without this constant anxiety, job placement and job training programs, and healthcare, so that all the pieces are in place for people to gain sustainability and self-reliance. The majority of people who are here from New Orleans were employed back home: 67%. And now only 23% are employed, due in part to the kind of circumstances I’ve described, in part to some very direct and explicit discrimination around jobs that’s going on in the labor market right now.
Broderick Bagert is with The Metropolitan Organization, a Catholic church related entity, which gets local churches and other groups involved in social justice issues. It works with churches and local governments, volunteers and people, to make things better for its community. I did some work with them when I had a pulpit. It is hardly a "radical" or "fringe" group. When they speak, I listen. The entire interview with Amy Goodman is worth listening to.

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