From FEMA to City Hall: Where Does the Buck Stop? (and two other articles

Date Published: 
November 11, 2005


From FEMA to City Hall: Where Does the Buck Stop?

Update from Miami:
16 days after Hurricane Wilma stormed through Miami, city, county, state, and federal agencies continue to fail to support its people. Along with 40 or so displaced residents and allies, the Miami Workers Center (MWC) and Low-Income Families Fighting Together (LIFFT) held a press conference and sit-in at the City Mayor's Office.

ïNot one more night, Homes not Cots, Viviendas Ahora, read the signs of families who rode up to city hall on a school bus from the only Red Cross shelter in the county. Those families made a political decision to go to city hall instead of negotiating the constant barrage of service workers who were now having evacuees fill out form after form without ever delivering housing.
The group gathered in front of city hall held a banner declaring, Housing Now. Several strong women from the Tamiami shelter led the call for immediate assistance from the local government and FEMA. Gihan Perera of the Workers Center addressed the press, 16 days after Hurricane Wilma, and 3 months after Katrina, what have we learned? Where are those that are supposed to be responsible? Where is the government? We are here today to ask the Mayor of Miami to stand up and take responsibility for the people of Miami and to ask him to hold FEMA accountable to doing its job as the Federal government.

Then Sushma Sheth and Rosalie Whiley of the MWC and LIFFT led a delegation of displaced residents and allies with the entire crowd into city hall to demand a meeting with the mayor. The mayor, who was out of the office, refused to return to city hall for a meeting. However City Commissioner Gonzalez promised an immediate 'solution' to the people's problems. He and the city manager assured the crowd that they would get FEMA to handle it. It never happened. Finally, a meeting was granted with the mayor's chief of staff. The city's position was that it is Miami-Dade County's responsibility to deal with FEMA. However, the chief of staff refused to arrange a meeting between the city, county, and FEMA.

Outside the meeting, the city's homeless assistance service provided a few families with motel accommodations which will more than likely last for a night or two. The mayor was quoted on NPR this morning saying: The City of Miami is doing everything to make sure that its residents have housing, through shelters or hotels.

This is yet another disappointment for people who have lost almost everything not only due to the storm but also to the neglect of those who are charged with taking care of them. This is the reality of the new urban politics. Disaster is the role of the state.

ZNet | Activism

Wilma and FEMA vs. the Poor

The underreported story...
by Joseph Phelan; Miami Workers Center Communications; November 06, 2005

As days turn into weeks the situation worsens for the poor people left behind not only by aid relief but by society as a whole. People who had been living under slumlord conditions are evicted from housing that has been deemed unsafe for human habitation, yet at the same time there is no alternative housing offered.
People living paycheck to paycheck are facing the stress of lost jobs do to homelessness or business closures. They are also facing a hostile city government which refuses to spend reimbursable money on temporary vouchers for hotels.

The situation in Miami is very similar to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, if not in scale than in intention. A system of aid and relief failed poor people of color. This failure is not a sudden breakdown of an otherwise functioning society.
It is a sharp illustration of the structural problem of underdevelopment in particular communities, namely poor, urban, and black and immigrant. Evictions and death due to lack of health care, hunger, and poor living conditions are a reality for these populations.
These permanent conditions under the neo-liberal policies of today's capitalism are only accelerated by the crisis of natural disasters.

The tragedy of New Orleans was highlighted by immense press coverage, as it should have been, do to the severely dramatic nature of bursting levees and massive flooding. Press coverage and public outcry at the lack of support for low income communities of color leading up to, during, and after Katrina forced President Bush to acknowledge 'that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America,' a line that cuts sharply against the right wing push to dismantle hard won civil rights.

While poor people of color were displaced in relatively large numbers in both Miami and New Orleans the cities' tourist destinations were up and running with electricity first. In Miami, the beach and other wealthy and tourist areas were sealed off and protected by police and national guard under curfews and martial law. This indignity only served to further highlight the sad reality of the U.S. society as illustrated by Gihan Pereara of the Miami Workers Center, 'We are living in two cities, two worlds, one poor and working class, the other rich.'

Victims of Katrina in New Orleans and victims of Wilma in Miami lived through a storm of immense natural power and destruction. But more destructive than the winds and water is the disaster of economic injustice and racism This killer does not find its origins in the the Atlantic but in the board rooms of corporate developers, the meetings rooms of real estate speculators and the back rooms of banks. Katrina has now rendered all of New Orleans a clean slate for mega- casino's and luxury hotels, Miami's poor black and immigrant communities were already facing an ironic affordable housing crisis in the middle of an unprecedented building boom with the promise of 70,000 luxury condo units to be built in the next four years. The forced removal of these communities was on the horizon before Wilma, the destructive nature of the hurricane just happened to be more immediately violent. Wilma and Katrina's displacement of poor communities is a windfall for developers.

In the wake of Katrina a lot of the talk from political leaders focused on re-building. Because of strong national attention on the area there is a possibility that this rebuilding process will not completely exclude the communities that originally lived there. But with no state-sponsored support prior to and immediately following the storm, a terrible to non-existent tracking program for displaced people, and a legacy of disenfranchisement for poor people of color the question has to be raised: Who will direct and benefit from the rebuilding of New Orleans, and Miami and who will be left out of the picture?

The answer to that question is all too clear under the present political regime. It is the poor, the black. the immigrant, the low wage earner, the mother, the children of them all that pay the price. It is on their backs that a few may prosper handsomely, and it is those few that make decisions for all of us.


Joseph Phelan is a a communications assistant with the Miami Workers Center. The Miami Workers Center is a strategy and organizing center for low-income communities and low-wage workers in Miami-Dade County, Fl.

Contact Joseph at joseph [at] theworkerscenter [dot] org. For more information on what is happening in Miami checkl out

MIAMI: Displaced Hurricane Victims Confront FEMA

by Miami Workers Center Saturday, Nov. 05, 2005 at 5:08 PM
305-759-8717 x 0

Fed up with the continued run around from FEMA and the Red Cross, displaced residents and their children along with the Miami Workers Center and allies, marched on the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) at the Joseph Caleb Center in Miami. The delegation of 40 people occupied the lobby for 7 hours after being blocked from entering the office The group carried pillows and blankets signs. They chanted for immediate housing vouchers, and demanded a meeting with the head FEMA official.

Negotiations with FEMA were disastrous. The first FEMA official in charge of the Recovery Center, Randy Proudy, gave a number of false promises, lied about the negotiations, and ultimately snuck out the back door during the middle of the event. He was later fired. Things were so bad that the Miami Dade County police had to call national FEMA executives to locate someone that was accountable. When the regional director arrived 4 hours later, he delivered nothing but excuses, and threatened to have the entire group arrested immediately.


This direct action was taken after days of mass evictions following in the wake of Wilma - one of the most devastating storms that Miami has seen in 20 years. These evictions are a result of building condemnations due to worsened conditions in already inadequate housing throughout poor neighborhoods of Miami. As apartments were deemed unfit for human habitation people were forced from their ruined homes. Eerily reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina, there is an empty vacuum of support for the working poor.

Working with displaced residents of poor neighborhoods the Miami Workers Center in coalition with ten other organizations put forward a policy proposal called ?Hurricane Economic Recovery Policies? on November 3. This proposal was released at a lively press conference attended by over 80 people and 20 organizations involved in grassroots organizing, advocacy, and service work. The crowd was brought to their feet clapping and yelling as three displaced women called for people to stand up to the city government, national government, their landlords and large aid agencies and demand the help they need. Several of these same women led the group into the FEMA center today.