In New Orleans, long-term recovery continues two years after Katrina
South Louisianians are keeping their prayer candles burning for a quiet hurricane season as the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina draws near on August 29. The usual summer quietude which is broken by passing streetcars, Saturday night jazz joints, or Sunday church bells is now displaced by the daily noise of hammers, chain saws and power equipment across the metropolitan area as homes and businesses rebuild.
Housing continues to be the city’s biggest need. Tourists to the city who come by air, or by car from the west, arrive in New Orleans and see a city that looks fairly recovered from the storm. Indeed, a recent announcement on a local popular radio food show, noted there are more restaurants open in New Orleans now than before Katrina. This seems to be an astonishing fact since the city has lost population. But readers should know that many homes in the area still do not have operational kitchens. Eating out is more a necessity, than a luxury.
Those who come to New Orleans by car approaching from the east have no delusions about the condition of housing in the city. They drive past miles of beautiful homes and shopping malls that lie in ruins. Stores are boarded up. Dead trees and bent lamp posts show the tell-tale signs of the massive destruction -- much of it still untouched two years later.
Hundreds of homeowners are rebuilding but hundreds have abandoned hope and are not returning. The neighborhoods acquire what is referred to as the “jack-o-lantern” effect -- a house here, an abandoned lot there, a house, an abandoned lot.
The jack-o-lantern effect has given “rise” to another problem this summer -- weeds. With so many vacant properties, weeds have become an urban and suburban nightmare for homeowners and for the city leaders.
Homeowners can care for their own property but if they have no neighbors, the weeds next door quickly become shoulder-high, inviting swamp “critters” of every kind. The city, with its reduced budget and reduced manpower, has a difficult job keeping up with the daunting mowing task. It is the ongoing presence of volunteers, who come to this city from all over the world, who are making the difference in New Orleans. Were it not for volunteers and the assistance of church and charitable organizations, the city could not hope to “tame” the wild jungles.
Office of Disaster Response
The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana’s Office of Disaster Response (ODR) continues its remarkable service to this city under the leadership of Archdeacon Dennis McManis and Dr. Courtney Cowart.
“Today, ODR has 29 staff employees and has had 39 college interns helping our efforts this summer,” McManis said of the program. “We continue to serve over 12,000 people each month and house 100 volunteers each week.”
ODR distributes its basic goods and services throughout the community through its deacons, case managers, staff and volunteers. In his July report, McManis noted that 252,395 families have been served by ODR. The two feeding ministries have provided 53,475 meals. Seven houses have been rebuilt and 875 have been gutted.
The case management program has helped 493 families to date and many more are on the waiting list. Thirty-five clients recently received brand new sofas and loveseats through case management services.
“I thank God for anything he is able to provide through this program,” one client was heard to say as he loaded his new couches onto his pick-up truck.
Another client gratefully threw out his aged, mildewed sofa when the new ones arrived. His seven-year-old daughter leaped on the plump new cushions exclaiming, “This sofa smells good.”
Respite Unit still rolling
The Mobile Respite Unit, which was the diocese’s first operational ministry van to hit the streets in October 2005 following Katrina, continues to roll each week. It has now provided goods and pastoral care to 77,457 people.
Its newer sister van, the Mobile Medical Unit has served 5,948 people. The Suicide Intervention and Counseling Center on the Northshore of the diocese has helped 1,541 people.
Tens of thousands of people have accessed the services provided at the diocese’s two Homecoming Centers: St. Luke’s in Mid-City and St. Paul’s in Lakeview. These centers provide area-specific services for their neighborhoods. St. Luke’s Center caters to the many young people in its neighborhood. It houses a case management program as well.
St. Paul’s provides case management, volunteer housing, a washeteria, lawn supply distribution, and other services to its older community.
“What would we do without the volunteers?” asks Connie Uddo, coordinator of St. Paul’s Homecoming Center. “We would not be as far along in our recovery without them.” The center houses some 25 volunteers each week.
McManis added, “As more and more residents return to the city, the needs continue to grow.”
How you can help
The primary concern in New Orleans is rebuilding. Those who wish to lend a hand but are unable to come as a volunteer, can be of great assistance by sending gift cards to the diocese’s Office of Disaster Response program. Gift cards from Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Lowe’s are most needed.
Send cards in any amount, large or small, to: Archdeacon Dennis McManis, Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, 1623 Seventh Street, New Orleans, LA 70115.
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