Homeless in NOLA

From Scout:

Michelle Goldberg of Salon.com has been in New Orleans recently to report on recovery efforts. Her first report on housing is now posted at Salon.com. Homelessness looms large for many with FEMA set to end hotel payments for most today, Feb 7 and virtually all in March…….

Feb. 7, 2006 | NEW ORLEANS — Without having a lot of money, it’s almost impossible to find a place to live in New Orleans. People who came here after Hurricane Katrina, seeking rebuilding jobs, figured they could rent apartments or cheap rooms. But there’s little housing to be had in Crescent City, and what is available rents for double what it cost before.

With nowhere to go, dozens of people have taken up residence in New Orleans City Park, sleeping in tents or under jury-rigged blue tarps. A group of Apache Indians from Arizona has even set up a teepee. Seeking to impose some sort of order, the city contracted with an Alabama firm called Storm Force, which has corralled people into a few manageable fields and started charging $300 a month for muddy plots big enough for four or five tents, huddled close together. Showers are available for $5.

Although famous restaurants are reopening in the French Quarter, and a trickle of tourists has returned, much of New Orleans remains apocalyptic. Streets are lined with empty, rotting houses, ugly yellow-brown stripes on the walls marking the floodwater line. A dead dog decomposes in a cage in the middle of a road in Gentilly, the devastated middle-class neighborhood that served as the setting for Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer.” The trees and grass are brown and dead, killed by the flood’s chemical stew.

Officials say New Orleans can’t handle an influx of traumatized, homeless families, but that may be what it is about to get. Five months after Hurricane Katrina, many of the storm’s victims are facing a second crisis. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is ending its hotel subsidy program despite the fact that thousands of Katrina victims have nowhere else to go. Thousands of evacuees will be cut off Feb. 7, and almost all will lose their hotel rooms by early March. Advocates for Katrina evacuees are terrified about what will happen next.

If FEMA deadlines aren’t extended, “you’re going to see folks homeless — truly homeless and out on the street,” says Mary Joseph, director of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Katrina Relief and Recovery for Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. None of New Orleans’ homeless shelters are in operation and so all the city can offer is a patch of expensive, rain-soaked parkland. “I am scared,” says Tracie Washington, a local civil rights lawyer who has represented Katrina evacuees facing eviction from their hotels. “Every indication says to me that we are headed for a catastrophe if we don’t do something quickly.”

Where is the long range planning for housing?