Katrina Creates Homeless Hell
The New York Times
"You see this stuff on TV and you never think it's going to happen to you." Jennifer Noll, Katrina survivor
Katrina isn't 9/11 and it isn't the Tsunami. It's Katrina, period. A hurricane of such massive, destructive force it has wiped out entire cities and towns in whole sections of the South. And in scenes reminiscent of foreign war zones--Croatia, Poland, Russia, Africa--it has turned ordinary, everyday citizens into an army of homeless refugees.
The plight of these suddenly homeless people makes the life of a street person in any other city seem tame and manageable. At least they can camp in a park, an alley, beneath an underpass. They can find food in trash cans, dumpsters and the back doors of friendly food establishments. They can panhandle at a favorite street corner, subway stop or office building. They can find clothes or shoes at Good Will or a church. If they're quiet and quick, they can even use bathrooms at bus stations, train stations, any public buildings. Then it's back out into the light or night of familiar territory, everyday routine.
Not so for the homeless of Katrina. The parks, office buildings, restaurants, bus stations--even the alleys--are gone. Katrina's homeless have nowhere to go and no way to get there. No one to help and no way to ask. Even the poorest had houses and neighborhoods and churches and transportation and stores and lives -- then overnight, they had NOTHING. No homes, no schools, no transit, no businesses, no streets, no highways, no cities.
We watch pictures of them from the comfort of our own intact homes. We are horrified, but from a safe distance. Their gruesome vantage point is stark reality -- nothing but devastation and hopelessness as far as their eyes can see. They are Trapped. Frightened. Hungry. Thirsty. Desperate. Angry.
So we shouldn't be surprised when they resort to what amounts to enforced anarchy. They're literally under siege. The underpinnings of their society have been destroyed along with their homes. They're more than just dazed and confused, they're alone in a sea of equally pitiful--and increasingly desperate--humanity.
Everything they've come to rely on to live their everyday lives is gone. They have no food or water, so they knock out a window in an abandoned store and take it. This we can understand. They need baby formula, diapers, medical supplies--basic necessities to sustain human life--so they steal them wherever they can. This we can even encourage, or at least forgive.
But some are taking televisions and jewelry and cash too. And they are breaking into sporting goods stores and pawnshops to get guns. They're using machetes to carjack drivers who are themselves trying to escape the End of the World. And, as with any people under a siege mentality, they are turning on each other with a vengeance.
How did this happen? An unconscionable lack of first response from local, state and federal governments. Especially the federal government. And a criminal lack of second, third or fourth response that continues, days after the fact, to baffle the country.
Is everyone on vacation along with George Bush?? There were dead-on advance predictions of this massive, catastrophic storm yet our president didn't even mobilize himself until after it was over.
I remember him sitting in that Florida classroom on 9/11 while New York burned, seemingly paralyzed, unable to react. Then I watched his appalling lack of leadership during his press conference August 31, a day late and a lot of compassion short. And I have to wonder: what does it take to get this president to take decisive action?
My friend Jesse Kornbluth, aka Swami Uptown, has a fascinating theory of why George W. Bush reacts to death and destruction--or rather, doesn't--in George Bush: An Appointment with Death.
Regardless of our president's weaknesses, our government needs to rally to the aid of Katrina's homeless, and fast. An act of terrorism gave President Bush the excuse to wildly overreact--long after the fact--and to put our military and our country in even graver danger. An act of Nature must force him to Do The Right Thing, or he will go down in history as the worst president on God's flooded earth.
Labels: Hurricane Harangues