USA - invisible humanitarian crisis - post Katrina "Slipping through the cracks"
The history of The United States of America is one of racial relations. Marc Twain, admired and acclaimed son of America and one of it's most virulent critics, devoted his life to denouncing how citizens had an erroneous perception of their own country. Almost a century after his death, the controversial issue of race still makes headlines in The United States.
On August 29th of 2005, hurricane Katrina struck the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. The first day, according to media reports, New Orleans had escaped the disaster: the eye of the storm had passed south of the city. But during the days that followed, the images proved the opposite. The hurricane had damaged and broken dikes, flooding 80% of the city, while numerous residents remained in their homes. Some people were able to get to the Super-dome, while others camped on rooftops waiting for help to arrive. Thousands had drowned. The exact numbers were never established.
Katrina has shed new light on the unknown poverty levels in Louisiana as well as in the state of Mississippi. The unresolved question is whether or not the reaction of the authorities had been slow because the victims were poor and afro-American...while the fires in California were so quickly confined.
Almost three years later, some residents have gone back to their homes, but for the most part life remains difficult. If you can find a job in New Orleans, housing remains a challenge because the rents have almost tripled. The shelters in New Orleans are again full and homeless people have set up tents under highway bridges. The mayor, Ray Nagin, declared that all people who did not leave these places would be arrested by the police. It goes without saying that crime levels are at record highs.
During recent months, all of the social housing of New Orleans has been demolished. These apartments, where thousands of families lived before Katrina, were mostly in good condition. But, before the disaster, a demolition project already existed because of crime which rages in these districts. Katrina was only a pretext to implement it. No future plans exist for these destroyed towns.
Similarly, the camping grounds in urban and suburban zones are going to be closed, leaving thousands of people in the streets. The latter receive a coupon which establishes no guarantee of accommodation, but simply gives them the right to pay a rent.
For refugees, for example in Houston, life is very difficult. Some 70,000 survivors of Katrina still live there, and if Houston had initially welcomed these refugees generously, that help has dried up. It is now necessary to pay their rents at market rates and the refugees are for the most part unemployed. Crime levels continue to rise and the municipality of Houston is now building a new detention center for young people in the city center.