The modern day 'never ending story': post-Katrina long-term recovery

Amber McZeal
Date Published: 
July 5, 2006




FEMA’s decision to discontinue rental assistance to Katrina survivors last month led to a scramble to locate sufficient resources in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, these efforts have resulted in a dead end search.

FEMA directs the somewhat bewildered and near homeless survivors toward local non-profit organizations who can offer “long-term recovery” to those in need. But what does long-term recovery truly consist of?

Most recently, referrals from FEMA have sent Katrina survivors to the East Bay KARE Committee – a board of representatives from several non-profit organizations collaborating in the raising and collecting of funds to meet the long-term recovery needs of Katrina survivors. To recover, within the framework of a long-term situation, would entail sufficient and consistent housing at the very least. However, life remains a month-to-month scramble.

East Bay KARE offers referrals to other organizations for free clothing, shelters, vouchers for food or directions to food banks and, perhaps, a bus pass to accompany you, but these things do not provide a foundation for recovery. They are temporary solutions to a daily threat of elimination.

As the economy continues to pulse and the gap widens further between the classes, Katrina survivors get lost in the cracks.

Through Catholic Charities of the East Bay, rental assistance is available as well as other services that have been in place for the financially unstable for some time now.

Through engaging with these organizations, it becomes clear that though there is a surplus of money donated to this cause, only a small percentage of it will reach Katrina survivors. It travels through a lengthy labyrinth of bureaucratic thievery – FEMA’s process for determining eligibility.

As the clock ticks toward the first of the month and late fees rise, FEMA creates excuse after excuse concerning future rental assistance. Their most clever delay has been to reject your rental receipts after four months of accepting them and now demanding a letter from the landlord.

This treatment exceeds adding insult to injury. It borders on the path toward psychological genocide by allotting little time and short-lived, impractical resources coupled with mental torment.

The process of rebuilding your life is stagnant, if you are depending on the government. Truthfully, time waits for no one. Though hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians are walking in a post-traumatic void, movement occurs.

It seems that you are forced to work five times as hard, carrying the emotional weight of this catastrophe and the withering compassion in this country of pirates. Ours is a story of a modern-day underground railroad … a never-ending story.

Amber McZeal is a displaced Hurricane Katrina survivor and New Orleans resident who currently resides in Berkeley, California. McZeal is a jazz singer and college student, who is pursuing a degree in ethnomusicology. Email her at evolutionmuse [at] hotmail [dot] com.