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Katrina Road Home Money Tied Up in Congress

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They dressed the wounds of my poor people as though they're nothing...saying "peace," but there's no peace. Days without number. Who will dress their wounds?

--Sinead O'Connor (Theology)

Lower Ninth Ward New Orleans Today © G. Nienaber

O’Connor’s prayer of a song is about finding grace on a lonely Christmas Eve, but it provides a template and inspiration for the story of New Orleans two years and counting post Katrina. You have to wonder what is happening when you walk the streets of the still-devastated lower ninth ward and the handful of residents are hopeful that you might be from CNN as you prowl the streets with hand-held equipment and a cheap condenser microphone, tripping over the cable as you go. No sound man, no camera operator.

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Actually, that is why you can be here. You are on the cheap. Trying to get these individual stories out, and the people here are putting their faith in you that you might do so. The people are waiting for a story-teller. The people are waiting for grace. They are waiting for Road Home money promised by George Bush as he stood in Jackson Square a few days after Katrina and his slack-jawed fly over in Air Force One.

Days without number.

So, you rely on Cinema Verité —hands shaking, camera bobbling, tripping over your own feet, you try to steady yourself and follow them down the dirty streets and hear the stories of how this was once home, and home was blown and floated away. They quote the bible to you. They are seeds scattered by the wind to Houston, Galveston, and Baton Rouge. They are waiting for the promise of Road Home money that has been held up by an Iraq spending bill. You hear “Road Home” again and again.

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Government dressed the wounds of the poor people as if they are nothing. Days without number. Two years and counting.

There is no point in photographing the devastation anymore. Every street looks the same. You go to your rental at night and review the still photos and think you’ve had a brain infarct because the shots of the homes are not level. Then you realize that the houses are not level—tilted at insane, crazy angles by the flood. It was the flood, not the wind that got New Orleans. The underinsured are faced with merciless arguments about whether it was wind or flood that devoured their homes. Some get paid only for damage above the water marks on their homes, which can reach ten feet in some cases. So, they get a check for the roof damage, but nothing for the four walls that sheltered their families for twenty years and more. A retired New Orleans cop gets $40,000 on a $150,000 policy. Then the contractor took her money and left the reconstruction job unfinished.

The insurance companies and contractors dressed the wounds of the poor people as though they’re nothing.

You give up on the still photos and review the video. The truth is that you are a crappy videographer as you see the heads bob in and out of the frame, but there is one good shot as you pan and a woman’s voice talks about how this was once a good, quiet neighborhood, and the video playback shows the demolished community center in good focus, and her voice is strong and clear on the soundtrack. She is walking you to her sister’s FEMA trailer down the block, but you know FEMA is taking their trailers back and the people are still waiting for help to rebuild.

Days without number.

The solid Times-Picayune newspaper reports on October 30 that west of Louis Armstrong International Airport a FEMA trailer enclave faces closure by Jefferson Parish authorities while FEMA maintains that it will not close the site until residents have secured alternative housing. Progress is measured in how many trailers are left. FEMA says there were originally 17,000 trailers in Jefferson Parish. Now there are 4,000 according to published reports, but there are no numbers available as to where the people are. Did they relocate with relatives? Did they get apartment subsidies? Did they scatter with the winds?

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FEMA dressed the wounds of the poor people as if they were nothing.

Will Road Home money dress the wounds of the poor people?

The Road Home program was created in 2006 by Governor Kathleen Blanco, the
Louisiana Recovery Authority, and the Office of Community Development. The
program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Out-going Louisiana Governor  Blanco spent several days in mid-October at the white house trying to get the feds to cough up the money promised over a year ago. We will say it again.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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