Yesterday I took an incredibly compelling, dismaying yet somehow hopeful tour of four areas still devastated by Hurricane Katrina — Gentilly, the 9th Ward, St. Bernard Parish (where only 5 homes remained in the county post storm) and Lakeview. 2 1/2 years post-Katrina, these areas remain blighted with huge expanses of open land where homes were torn down, dead trees and other storm debris never removed and street lights are still out. More photos here.
The media doesn’t broadcast Katrina images anymore, but these stories are here. Many of them. Grocery stores just reopened in three of these areas, with residents crying with joy in the aisles. Imagine 2 1/2 years without a grocery store nearby. The post office in Lakeview just re-opened earlier this month.
As you know, the federal government failed to provide the help that New Orleans and surrounds needs. What’s incredible, and what I didn’t know, is how nonprofits have stepped up to fill the gaps, trying to build a better city, not just the same city. Here are some of the projects I saw during yesterday’s tour:
Barnes and Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio’s family foundation just committed $20 million to building homes for low-income families through a newly created nonprofit development arm, Project Home Again (PHA). The new homes are for those who lost theirs as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The pilot will build 20 wind-resistant homes in Gentilly, to offered at no cost via lottery to eligible families willing to swap their damaged homes or vacant lots, where PHA will build another hurricane-proof home.
The grassroots Beacon of Hope Resource Center provides services key to daily living for residents in three of these areas. Services are practical and much-needed, ranging from acting as a communication link between city agencies in restoring services and utilities such as mail delivery, electricity, sewerage and water, and vetting home repair vendors from structural engineers to mold remediators. This is a huge help when insurers are requiring policy holders to get three or more valid estimates for every necessary repair. The trailer at left holds washers and dryers available to residents still doing without.
The self-organized City Park Mowrons are New Orleans residents who stepped forward to help the 30 (of 260 pre-Katrina) remaining employees restore and maintain this famed park. They mow, weed and plant this city haven which served as a post-Katrina camping ground for refugees.
These are just a few of the many nonprofits helping New Orleans come back to life. I’m hugely moved and impressed by the creativity, energy, focus and generosity of the people behind these initiatives who have stepped up to the plate, and are making a huge difference to residents and and their institutions and communities still striving to rebuild.
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