02 November 2006

lessons from Katrina - united in homelessness

first, brief random updates:
*my submission was selected for the Junk to Funk fashion show. yeay!
*i got callbacks to "Private Lives". yippee!
*did callbacks for "If You Take One Elf off the Shelf". hot diggity!
*started hard-core plans for Green Empowerment's Burma fundraiser at The Monkey and The Rat on Nov. 18th. meow!
*actually rented "V" for the weekend. thrilled!

okay, and now for the title event of the day . . .
this evening there was a panel lecture hosted by the Oregon chapter of the APA (American Planning Association) entitled "Lessons from Hurricane Katrina" (http://www.oregonapa.org/content/view/106/80/). the panelists included a FEMA volunteer, Gulf Coast Program Manager from Mercy Corps, NW Medical Teams volunteer, legal volunteer, and a PSU urban planning graduate student who did undergrad at Loyola in New Orleans and went back to volunteer after Katrina.

i am sorry to say the PSU student's name eludes me now, but let's call her Kaye for brevity. Kaye's story killed me. She talked about a fellow named George who was a handyman who traded his skilled labor for rent in his New Orleans apartment and, due to the fact that he didn't pay bills associated with his house and had lost his ID during the evacuation, couldn't receive FEMA aid for lack of residential proof. George and Kaye went through a labyrinth of bureaucratic hoops, including Kaye physically driving to New Orleans to get a copy of a form that in the end couldn't be printed due to their lack of printer, then finally giving FEMA the information they needed in a format they would accept only to have it lost later due to a data entry mistake. they have not been able to find George since the last letdown, and he is homeless somewhere without any way to locate him.

the panelists' stories reminded me a great deal of life shortly after the tsunami in southern Thailand. but sadly, they actually reminded me a little more of life in Portland. most of my friends and family have either met or known about Don and Ken, two really cool homeless guys that hang out between 1st and 2nd and yamhill in the mornings. they have been trying to get assistance for years from social security, since Ken has not been able to work since a train accident that made his arm nonfunctioning at best and a serious threat to his kidneys at worst. their prospects got a little more hopeful a number of months ago when Ken had to have his arm amputated, thereby eliminating all doubts as to his disability. and yet it's been months of waiting for them. we talked this morning (as we do most mornings), and we had all hoped for some final good news in the form of a social security check that would help get them off the streets. due to clerical error (tell me if you've heard this before), their processing has been delayed, and they'll have to wait a little longer. did anyone else feel how cold it was today? and wet? it certainly wasn't this cold in june when Ken's arm was amputated and they started the process. now it might not be until december. the whole time Kaye was talking about George and everyone was shaking their heads in wonderment, i just wondered whether the system ever actually worked in someone's favor. i am sure many social service workers try very hard and put their hearts into their jobs. there are many heroes among them, and nothing in this little rant is meant to say they are anything less than wonderful and well-meaning folks trying to make a difference (the ones that don'e make silly and frequent data entry mistakes, anyway). however, i struggle to see how efficacy and accountability can coexist in such a bureaucracy-laden society.

i won't start on post-tsunami aid or displaced persons and developers' ambitions. that is a travesty too often told and too often forgotten. and i've already ranted enough.

1 comment:

Adam said...

jesus, how do you find the TIME to do your projects, much less your project that you do to tell people about your project. I must be confused about something.