(Times Picayune STAFF PHOTO BY ELLIS LUCIA)
The above photo from Thursday’s Times Picayune is of Saul and Mildred Rubin, both in their 90’s, in their Lakeview home “which took on nearly 9 feet of water from the nearby 17th Street Canal breach.” The accompanying TP story told of their shock when they received their “Congratulations” letter from the Road Home program informing them the damage on their home was put at $550. The Rubin’s had wanted to return home but given that estimate and a deduction from a FEMA grant it was concluded they don’t qualify for a rebuilding grant.
This is heartbreaking. The Road Home has been anything but so far. To date only 84 people have received Road Home grants. Briefly, $7.5 billion in federal money was finally sent to Louisiana this summer to give homeowners repair or buy-out grants. The state hired a company named ICF for $756 million to set up and administer a program called “The Road Home” to disburse the grants. The program has been run so poorly that on Friday the LA state
legislature House “sent the governor’s office a resolution, approved 97-1, directing her staff to fire ICF.” It’s unclear what if anything will occur in that regard but the story of the Rubins sparked outrage from TP readers.
The Rubins…all the Rubins
I’m not sure where to start with this so I’m just going to first draft it and see what comes out. There has not been a day since August 28th 2005 that I have not thought about New Orleans. I’ve read everyday and written many a day about the city and its people. How my life became intertwined with them I do not know. It hadn’t been a conscious decision. It just happened. When people ask me why, my first thought is why not, but my only answer to date has been because it is just so Wrong.
What I saw on my first trip to New Orleans was shocking. And you know it really hit home when I returned home. I came in late at night exhausted and just went to bed. The next day I went out to run errands. It was there at the red streetlight on the corner by my home that it hit. I looked at the red light and knew I could just stop and rest assured that this machine would tell me when it was safe to go ahead. A working streetlight…What a relief and in those seconds I looked to my left and there was an open convenience store and to my right was an open Walgreens. Man I could just pull in and get gas or a Coke or medication or candy, toothpaste, office supplies, use a bathroom, heck get fresh cut roses. It was all just right there at my ready.
I looked up and down the street and there were any number of stores and restaurants all open and teeming with people who hadn’t lost acquaintances, friends or family to tragedy. Their homes had water and power and mail delivery everyday. They weren’t pulling out their hair filling out SBC and FEMA forms or waiting on hold to discuss their “case” with someone…anyone. They weren’t sinking into depression or anxiety wondering what would happen next…if anything. Yes here I was in a place where everything was working and whole and so clean. After just 10 days in New Orleans this now seemed like another planet. And what did I feel? Folks I felt guilty. Yeah I felt guilty for living in a functioning American city. Is that messed up or what?
I share this in hope of bringing another level of understanding of how broken it is in New Orleans. That a person returning from there would look at a streetlight and gas stations with wide eyed wonder, gratitude and guilt says something of just how wrong it is in the Crescent City and in our America.
People are suffering and I worry about them. I don’t know if it a blessing or a curse but integral to me is that I do as the great Atticus said and I walk around in the skin of those people. And when I walk around in the 90 year old skin of Mildred Rubin and I look out through her eyes and see …
–my dear home and all my possessions that I collected over the years destroyed…
–and I know there’s only so much my children, themselves now elderly, can do to help…
–and I don’t even know where many of my friends or neighbors are…
–and it’s really too much to lean on the ones who are still here because they too are awash in their own troubles…
–and then I receive the congratulatory news that there will be no help…
I would undoubtedly ask at 90 years of age…How do I even go on?
My hope is the Rubins are plucky and feisty as hell and fight a good fight. But we need to realize and know…I mean know and feel it…that lives are ruined. Spirits are breaking everyday. People are still dying. There are suicides and there has been much anecdotal evidence of particularly the elderly just giving up on their lives. Is it any wonder?
I can’t write of the sorrow and desperation with out also writing of the incredible fight and resilience of those struggling to rebuild. They drive past destruction and emptyness everyday but will themselves forward to gut homes and deal with contractors and curse and fight the governments that have been woefully lacking to help them. But they go on and it amazes me. I admire them. I respect them and the love they have for their city and its culture which they only want to save. I delight in their joy when the Saints win. For a few hours they have the joy that the rest of America has…well ok given the Saints its better than what most of America has. But I worry about them. They have had to bend and bend and I wonder if there is a breaking point out there waiting.
Look I don’t have an ending here. I feel awkward and I am loathe to hit publish on my personal feelings. This isn’t about me. But the Rubins got to me and so I write. Take it for what it’s worth. I admit I hope its worth your outrage. I hope its worth your action. I don’t have the answers but I have to believe they’re out there and in us.
One of my friends in New Orleans says to keep in mind that they are running a marathon. I don’t know. It seems more like an endless Trail of Tears to me. And they shouldn’t be walking it alone.