Current Common Ground Relief Programs

Date Published: 
January 10, 2006

Current Common Ground Relief Programs:

Through donations of supplies and labor from over 300 volunteers, Common Ground has built a significant support structure for returning evacuees and those who weathered the storm. These are some of the activities being offered since the hurricanes hit.

Distribution of food and supplies: There are still very few open stores in the greater New Orleans area. To date, the Common Ground Collective has provided over 75 tons of food, water, cleaning supplies, diapers, health and hygiene goods and other necessities to more than 40,000 people. More and more people are starting to return and we are working to ensure that they have the basic provisions that they need to stay. The resources from the Algiers Distribution site, one of the first communities we served, have been redistributed to several new sites.

Upper 9th Ward. Distribution Center just opened in our new location at Pauline and N. Claiborne St. Serves and average of 75 families a day.

Houma 443 Ashland Drive. Serves an average of 70 families a day.

Working with members of the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, we are preparing for a new distribution site in Plaquemines Parish. We have cleaned and gutted the church and are gathering supplies in preparation for returning evacuees. We have had to curtail our mobile distribution to over 20 other communities until we can secure a truck.

We are also working on opening Distribution Centers in New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish.

Free Medical Clinic Free community-controlled, locally employed, primary care health Clinic is based in Algiers:

This clinic provides a range of health support, including hypertension, stress, diabetes, cardiac, minor trauma, etc, plus treatments for respiratory illness and infections related to exposure to toxins from the flood. The clinic also provides social workers, regular medical check ups, prescriptions and medications, mental health services, and alternative healing treatments such as herbal medications, massage, and acupuncture. The Clinic also provides home visits and has a mobile unit that goes to other communities. We treat roughly 100 people per day in plus those seen with home visits and the mobile clinic. We are open six days a week. Many visitors to the clinic have not seen a doctor or medical professional for years, which underscores the neglect and unmet needs of this community. Plans are underway to open permanent medical facilities in Algiers, the 9th Ward and other low-income areas.

Emergency Repair: Ensuring access to housing remains a critical need, and volunteers are working around the clock to assist residents in making their damaged homes livable and safe to occupy. Immediate work includes: Roof Tarping for damaged roofs, Debris Removal, Tree Trimming and removal and Mold Abatement. Focus is on assisting homebound individuals and others not being served by FEMA, the Red Cross and other official relief efforts. It is not surprising to see that the official relief efforts have been focused on middle and upper class neighborhoods. The longer formerly submerged houses go untreated, the less likely that they will be salvageable, that is why the urgent repair work focused on the 9th Ward and other low income communities is so critical. This work will continue for at least one year. On average we serve 10-15 families per week in the 9th ward. In Houma, we have a core group of 20 local volunteers who have prioritized the restoration of the local cemetery, which is now complete and are working on home clean up and debris removal. In Plaquemines Parish we have cleaned up 3 churches, tarped roofs, repaired the cemetery and have cleared the land to hold 350 trailers for returning evacuees.

Mold Abatement and construction trades training: One of the keys to stability for returning residents to New Orleans economic opportunity. Common Ground is preparing for a mold abatement and construction training program for returning residents. This will enable residents to clean up their own homes and gain useful job skills. Common Ground holds extensive trainings for all of our volunteers and works to make sure returning residents have the information and protective gear they need for safe clean up.

Legal Support: There have been literally thousands of incidents of police brutality and abuse since the hurricanes hit the gulf. Hundreds of African Americans have been routinely harassed arrested and detained for questionable offenses. Immigrant workers have also targeted. There are still no clear reports on how many young men have been slain by the police (who are shipped in from cities around the US). Common Ground has a legal working group that is focused on Copwatch/Police Brutality issues and provides documentation and legal support. The other major legal issue is eviction defense. Rent increases and evictions are happening at an alarming pace as low-income residents in undamaged homes are being moved out to house those able to pay more. Common Ground organizing includes legal clinics, monitoring incidents of evictions and providing support and solidarity for tenant advocates working on these issues.

Housing Advocacy/Eviction defense Subsidized housing in New Orleans has been eroding for many years, and housing advocates fear that housing agencies will use the hurricanes to justify the continued gentrification of New Orleans. HANO, the HUD controlled housing agency, is stalling the re- opening of habitable public housing units. Developers stack the official "Bring Back New Orleans" Committee, which further challenges efforts to rebuild New Orleans in a just and sustainable way. Common Ground helped form the NOHEAT Coalition (New Orleans Housing Emergency Action Team) which is working to ensure that the 14,000 or so public housing residents are able to come back home. We have already had several significant victories, blocking public housing evictions and supporting a legal challenge that now requires a 45-day notice of eviction.

Communications/Information services: Common Ground hosts Radio Uprising which provides information, interviews with residents, tapes of national radio shows as well as a range of music, including live performances to the residents of New Orleans. Common Ground has set up a Media Center with a computer lab and free phone access in its offices at 1415-1417 Franklin St. We have also set up several mobile computer labs in New Orleans for residents. Mesh Wireless Network is setting up a free wireless service for the entire Algiers area. Common Ground produces and distributes a range of vital information to residents and provides assistance in filling out FEMA applications, insurance forms and other applications.

Lower 9th Ward Cleanup and Advocacy: The Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans has gained international media attention due to the severity of the flooding and the exposure of long-standing human rights violations and neglect the residents have endured. Damage in the 9th Ward is severe because of the proximity to the broken levee, the quality of the housing before the levees broke and the fact that it was flooded twice following both hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Despite this, there are many homes and buildings that are worth repairing. Of the two sections of the 9th Ward, upper and lower, over half of the structures were flooded with 4 feet of water or less, which means that the chances are very good that these homes can be salvaged if they are repaired in time. Common Ground has prioritized the clean up and immediate repairs in this area. In addition to our distribution and repair programs, Common Ground is also engaged in:

Advocacy: It is critical that this community not be bulldozed, and official reports vary on the assessment of the damage and the plans for repair vs. razing. Advocacy work focuses on supporting residents' demands to return and for the immediate restoration services (trash removal, electricity and plumbing) to habitable parts of this area.

Womens Center: was opened over Thanksgiving week. It is one of the only womens' spaces open in the city that is a safe space for women, full of resources and room for emergency housing.

Environmental Monitoring: Common Ground has recruited skilled volunteers to do water/soil sampling, coordinate the sharing of this data with government health agencies and to create and distribute pertinent information to the public on potential hazards. We have developed a slideshow of environmental problems and have produced a pamphlet called Water, Mud, Mold and More: How to Stay Safe When Returning to Coastal Louisiana.

Meg Perry Community Garden and Bioremediation Project

Food security and access to good fresh produce is vital to the health of residents and returning evacuees. Working in partnership with Parkway Partners, Common Ground volunteers have cleaned up 3 community gardens where the gardeners intend to return. One of those garden plots, Sun Done Organics in Gentilly, has been made available to Common Ground for growing food for our distribution centers, as well as workspace for our bioremediation project. The bioremediation project using worm compost tea, oyster mushrooms and greens will be focused on cleaning up contaminated areas in New Orleans. We are working with other local groups interested in this project. Common Ground sponsored a training for residents on Nov. 19th followed by demonstration project where we treated two toxic hotspots identified in our sampling.

Meg Perry, one of our volunteers who was helping to organize the garden was tragically killed in an accident on December 10th. Meg was an amazing organizer who dedicated her life to spreading the word about environmental issues facing our nation. Her bus, know as the Frida Bus ran on vegetable oil. A memorial service was held at the garden and her family planted a fig tree in her honor. Common Ground will continue this vital work in Meg's name and may her memory feed us and the beautiful greens planted with her hands.

Click here for a tribute page to Meg Perry

Common Ground Kids and Community Project

The lack of open schools is one of the major factors in people's decision about whether or not to return. Currently there is only one public school (out of 100) that is open in New Orleans. Even before the storm the literacy rate was only 39%. Common Ground intends to provide spaces, which are an alternative to the public school system, where children feel supported and respected, and are helped to learn in the ways that work best for them. Children will be assisted by the community, and by people dedicated to providing quality education. At this time, we intend to open three or more childcare cooperatives, which will be modeled after home schooling circles and will also run adult literacy programs at night, in the 8th Ward, 9th Ward. We intend to start a tutoring and peer leadership program at Behrman Elementary and Middle School in Algiers. We also intend to open at least one Free School; a program, which we hope, will grow into a Free School System throughout the city.

Possible Future Projects

In addition to continuing the above work, Common Ground is exploring the following areas for future projects:

Workers cooperatives

Land trusts

Community service exchanges/alternative currencies

Community Disaster Response