The Fifth of Katrina – The Community at Large


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“At large” means that New Orleans is now all over the country, not just in Louisiana.

Ninety percent of New Orleanians, it is said, have managed to return to the city, some just barely, some in triumph.  It is now almost too expensive to move back to New Orleans proper, so some are living and renting in the suburbs. Some are still barely hanging on, living in FEMA trailers that could flood or be tossed around by an occasional tornado. The homeless situation is still bad. Between 12,000 to 19,000, by some estimates, are still living on the streets. Housing is even more at a premium now that the powers-that-are have destroyed the low-cost housing projects that had made it possible for the sustaining of homegrown culture, like the Mardi Gras Indians and Bounce music.

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With the supply of housing scarce, the cost of rental property has increased by 50 percent since the storm.

The lack of housing has also affected the city’s demographics.

“[New Orleans] has become slightly whiter and slightly more affluent and that has everything to do with the lack of affordable housing opportunities,” Perry said.

Researchers agree.

“There’s no question that those of lower classes who…had less access to resources and were disproportionately African-American were more likely to be displaced,” said Richard Campanella, geographer at Tulane University.

Campanella says the city’s black populations has decreased from roughly 70 percent to 61 percent. But he says New Orleans will not lose its cultural identity.

“To make that case, one has to think of culture as static,” Campanella said. “In fact, culture is fluid. It always changes. It follows people. And if demographics change in whichever direction, then culture will change with it.”

I think  that New Orleans will eventually lose its cultural identity if the current climate continues.  This, despite the collapse of the housing market, and the economic predictions that the Great Recession will go on for another decade.

The displaced New Orleanians, an estimated 100,000, are still scattered around the country, in places they had never thought of living, like Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, New York, Georgia, California, Utah.   They’ve been absorbed there.  Some, like 93-year-old Oneida Banks amd 27-year-old Yvahn Martin have decided to stay where they are, and happily so, away from New Orleans forever, and some of those that are able visit friends and family during Carnival.

Then there are others for whom trouble is still trailing them five years after the disaster, like Dru Ann Davis and her daughters in Oakland, CA. Lastly, there are others who are what I call The Wandering Wounded, who are exemplified by the video at the top of the page; they are wandering the country, still unable to find a place to work and to be;  they go from place to place, from city to city, from state to state.

If you remember Spike Lee’s When The Levees Broke, there were a couple of witnesses from the Hot 8 Brass Band.  It was either Bennie Pete or Harry Cook who said that they had gone from place to place after the evacuation, spread out all over the country, and at the time they had recorded their part of the documentary, they were still essentially homeless.  You can probably understand it from a musician, they’re supposed to be itinerant and sort of romantic on-the-road types; but people who were once working, thriving, responsible, tax-paying citizens in their own neighborhoods?  There’s no pity for them.

Recognize that while New Orleans is the second fastest-growing city in the United States; that it is undergoing an economic boom, that its employment rate is several percentages lower than the nation’s average, it is now filling with what a University of New Orleans professor called YURPs, or young urban redevelopment professionals. From

Marla Nelson and Renia Ehrenfeucht are urban planning professors at the University of New Orleans who have interviewed 78 YURPs since Hurricane Katrina as part of a research project into the city’s attracting the so-called creative class, and
they are concerned about overblown Woodstock-era rhetoric. Indeed, they see an internal tension in many of those who say they’re moving to the city for altruistic reasons.

“Some of the people we interviewed see this as the civil rights struggle of their generation, but there is, I think, a little uneasiness to say that this is something we should celebrate,” says Nelson.

“Our interviewees talk about New Orleans being such a great place, but then when they talk about their work there’s a sense that historically the city has been very lazy,” Ehrenfeucht says. “There’s a real sense that not everyone in New Orleans is professionally competent.”

Ehrenfeucht points especially to the charter school movement: The influx of young white teachers willing to work long hours without a union contract led to the displacement of many older black teachers who had been in the public school system for a generation.

“There’s also this real reluctance to see this as part of gentrification,” she continues. “On the one hand they’ll say, ‘I’m moving to this great neighborhood,’ but they’re not willing to see that they’re part of what makes the neighborhood not so great anymore, and there’s also this feeling that ‘I’m in a great place, but that, hey, I’m the only one who wants to do any real work around here.'”

The “civil rights struggle of their day”?

Who told them that we put them on a pedestal?

And this smug, self-aggrandizing mindset is exactly where the more conservative to racist elements in Louisiana can come in, politically, culturally and socially, to change New Orleans back to where it was before when those elements were running the show.  With a generation that seemingly hates reading and learning from history, they will be willing and malleable enough to sell out the very people that they claim to be helping, particularly black people.

Finally, the future of New Orleans, its children, are still suffering the effects of what happened before their very eyes during the aftermath of Katrina.  And it’s not a problem that is going away any time soon.

Sixty percent of children, approximately 20,000 kids, displaced by Katrina moved to trailer parks or hotels. These children have serious emotional disorders and behavioral issues, according to the study, which was conducted by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and funded by the Children’s Health Fund.

Children displaced by Katrina are also 4.5 times more likely to have serious emotional disturbances than their peers.

“Five years after Katrina, a number of people are getting better, reclaiming their lives and moving forward,” David Abramson, director of research for the Columbia National Center for Disaster Preparedness, told AOL BlackVoices. “But there is a sizable proportion that is still struggling. Every year, we expect to see [that number] diminishing, but it doesn’t seem to be diminishing at a rate we would like.”

Abramson and fellow researchers call it the “Katrina Effect” and it can lead to both short-term and long-term problems.The short-term problems are behavioral and educational issues, such as kids falling behind in school. The study found that 34 percent of middle- and- high-school-aged kids were a year or more older than their appropriate grade. Other behavioral problems can include things like high-risk sexual behavior.

In the long term, “toxic stress” can lead to serious medical problems:

“The accumulation of stress leads to metabolic, chemical and biological changes that shorten lives, such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” Abramson said.

Sounds like PTSD, huh?  Almost like being in a war zone.  These kids are going to need psychological help for some time, and even then, when they come to adulthood, they’re going to have to realize that they are going to need if they become too stressed.

Sandra Bullock just dedicated a medical clinic at the New Orleans charter high school that she rebuilt, Warren Easton. I hope that they also have a couple of full-time psychologists available, too.  I hope that this action encourages others–be they white or black–to invest their schools with such additions from grade school on up.

Indeed, New Orleans is pulling itself out of the proverbial mud.  A new entrepreneurial spirit has indeed taken root.  Hope is on the march. Black people are slowly but surely coming back–if not all the way back, they will be near.  The Ninth Ward may never return to its pre-Katrina population.  But the city is moving forward, if tenuously, towards an unpredictable future.

~ by blksista on August 30, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Fifth of Katrina – The Community at Large”

  1. My name is Willmarine B. Hurst. I am a freelance writer. I just finished a story which was published in The New Orleans Tribune on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

    I would like to leave a reply to this situation. But it will be next week before I do. It will be a contrast and comparison piece and you will know what I mean when you see it.

    There are still people trying to get back “home” to New Orleans, but circumstances and situations are making it impossible. Because we were all scattered around the country instead of being on one place, the people of the Gulf Coast have not been dealt with equitably. And those who are not in the city, are presumed to be ‘better off.’ And that is not the case in every situation


    • Sista, I don’t even speculate that people are better off in the ‘burbs. All boats aren’t rising in this situation. But I welcome your response and look forward to your reply. Please read the other Katrina piece that I wrote as well. Thanks.


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