10 years after Hurricane Katrina, US needs to prepare for the next big one

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After Katrina, Here’s How New Orleans Improved Education, Low-Income Housing, Health Care.

Saturday marked 10 years to the day since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. Gladys Bombace arrived at O’Hare International Airport on Sept. 5, 2005, with her three young girls, $40, a weathered photo ID and a plastic bag full of clothes soaked by Hurricane Katrina.ON THE “SLIVER by the river,” the stretch of precious high ground snug against the Mississippi, tech companies sprout in gleaming towers, swelling with 20-somethings from New England or the Plains who saw the floods only in pictures.

President Bill Clinton is scheduled to visit the southern U.S. city of New Orleans Saturday to attend ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of the city and killed 1,800 people. A visit to the Lower Ninth Ward would have seemed unimaginable in the storm’s immediate aftermath, but today the waters have receded — replaced by a region that is moving forward.

But, parenthetically, experts say, the storm gave the reeling city no choice but to hit the restart button on some of its broken systems that were long overdue for repair, including education, low-income housing and health care. A new $1 billion medical center rises downtown, tourism has rebounded, the music and restaurant scenes are sizzling, and the economy has been buoyed by billions of federal dollars. A slate of events was planned, including a morning wreath-laying ceremony with Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Mayor Mitch Landrieu to honor the more than 1,800 people who died. “We must recommit ourselves to the notion that no American should ever be left behind,” Landrieu said at the ceremony. “We can only move forward together.” His office has also orchestrated a citywide day of service, to dispatch 10,000 volunteers to seven areas where recovery efforts continue to take place. Her daughters, too young to even remember the devastating Gulf Coast hurricane, were back in their Waukegan schools this week along with the friends they’ve made in their adopted hometown. “I’ll be forever grateful that this community opened their arms to us, even though we’re not from here,” Bombace, a single mother, said Tuesday as she reflected on the decade since Katrina struck her former home in Kenner, La., near New Orleans. “They understood what we had been through,” she said while keeping watchful eyes on her daughters — Bridget, 13; Lilly, 12; and Isabella, 10 — as they played in a park near their McKinley Avenue home. Over the past 10 years, folks across the Gulf Coast have displayed the spirit of resilience that our country was founded on— building back stronger and dreaming bigger than before.

But on the porch stoops of this place so comfortable with the cycles of death and decay, they still talk about living in some kind of Atlantis-in-waiting. In addition to lagging behind academically when she started at Cohen College Prep, Simmons also lived in a homeless shelter for a year in eighth grade, after her father lost his job, making concentrating on her school work even more challenging. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina slashed and snarled into New Orleans, on Aug. 29, 2005, newcomers take their juice with chia seeds and buy fixer-uppers, and longtime locals fret that the city is no longer theirs, that it’s too expensive and might lose its soul. If Katrina was an example of what happens when government fails, the recovery has been an example of what’s possible when government works with local communities as a true partner.

Together, we’ve delivered resources to help Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida rebuild schools, hospitals, roads, police and fire stations, and historic buildings and museums. Simmons’ story represents that of many students who might not have succeeded to the same degree without the post-Katrina education system changes, experts point out.

And we’re building smarter, from elevating homes to retrofitting buildings to improving drainage, so that our communities are better prepared for the next storm. For Simmons, that meant attending a charter school, where she said her teachers pushed her even more once they found out about her compromising situation. Governor Jindal, a Republican presidential hopeful, had written a letter to Obama ahead of the event asking him to not mention climate change in his remarks. Soon after realizing she didn’t have enough money for even one night at a hotel in the Rosemont area, Bombace said, a businesswoman asked her what was wrong; when the woman learned she was a Katrina evacuee, she invited Bombace and her young girls to stay with her for several days in her hotel room.

Yet the city’s very survival as an inviting and vibrant space has made it into a symbol of resilience, an inspiration for other places savaged by nature’s whims and man’s mistakes. Our goal was to rebuild a city and a region as it should be — a place where everyone, no matter who they are, what they look like, or how much money they have, has an opportunity to make it. But supporters didn’t expect to see any swift changes. “There would’ve been incremental government change,” Patrick Dobard, superintendent of the Recovery School District, told HuffPost. “We never would’ve made the long systemic changes we see now.” Compounding the issue was the fact that critics were reluctant to accept what they viewed as a “top-down” costly system. A teacher has become so close to her girls, Bombace said, that “she has adopted my children as her grandchildren,” even buying a new pair of shoes so one of the girls could attend a school dance in something other than sneakers.

The long-term impact of the conversion of its schools to an all-charter system and the decision to demolish large public housing developments in favor of new mixed-use housing will be debated for years. But when Hurricane Katrina hit, — taking down 106 schools and sparking a fierce debate about poverty and race with it — advocates seized the chance to start over and build a stronger system. Patrice Smith’s New Orleans home was also destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but 10 years later she doesn’t have to look far to see several silver linings. The entity was created to transform failing institutions into high-performing charter schools. “It was a horrible catastrophe, but as we try to look for silver linings, if there’s any glimmer of hope, we were able to wholesale, put changes into place that have systemically improved the quality of schools,” Dobard said. But the people who now populate the city aren’t necessarily the ones who fled it. “The Chocolate City” that the bungling and corrupt Katrina-era mayor, Ray Nagin, famously described in the wake of Katrina is still majority black, but its African-American population has shrunk by nearly 100,000 — to 59 percent from 67 percent.

His administration was roundly criticized in the days following the storm for a slow emergency response to the thousands of people needing shelter, supplies and security amid the flooding. Administrators have been criticized for being quick to resort to suspending and expelling students who misbehave, which has helped boost figures and has also disproportionately affected minorities.

It’s why we believe in programs like My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative devoted to making sure that all young people, especially our boys and young men of color, have the opportunity to achieve their potential. Louisiana schools are twice as likely to suspend black students as they are white students, according to a 2010 study conducted by the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative and the Family and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children. “The unfortunate reality of ‘three strikes you’re out’ and other unnecessarily harsh policies [is that they] have escalated the pushing of young people out of school and down a pipeline to dropout, unemployment and prison,” Julian Heilig, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at California State University, Sacramento, told HuffPost. The gap between the median income of blacks and whites grew by 18 percent after the storm, and the number of African-American children living in poverty jumped from 44 percent to more than 51 percent. Smith said she and her girls left their home with only enough clothes for a few days because that was the usual hurricane drill before they could return home. The other concerning issues, advocates say, is that too few minority teachers were hired in the aftermath and that systemic issues that pertain specifically to underserved students weren’t addressed.

Because of the grit and determination of the American people, our businesses have created 13 million new jobs over 65 straight months, and our unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent to 5.3 percent. They say that more money should’ve been invested in early childhood education and increasing parental engagement, as well as access to health, social and other services at-risk students need to stay on track. Five minutes down the road, at the opposite end of Tremé, Dianne Honore, 50, rented half of a brick double across from Louis Armstrong Park a couple of years back. But Dobard continues to stand by the charter school model New Orleans has pioneered — noting that the district plans to address issues related to expulsion and is gearing up to roll out a robust program for students with special needs. When a school is up for renewal, it goes through an extensive review process and if it’s not meeting expectations, the RSD has the power to shut it down or transfer its leadership, Dobard said.

They also have more control over budgets, transportation and meal plans than standard public schools do. “The teachers actually taught us instead of just giving us work, and helped us with anything we needed,” Simmons said. “They actually challenged me instead of just giving me the answers. Honore, who lived in Texas after being flooded out, just “got gentrified,” six years after coming home, she says. “Some days, you feel like your culture is still drowning.” On the Friday before Mardi Gras, Patrick Comer and 150 of his friends, entrepreneurs all, spilled out of Arnaud’s, a venerable French Quarter restaurant, and onto Bourbon Street. URBANbuild collaborates with a number of local groups, including Brad Pitt’s Make It Right nonprofit, to build homes for people in need in the area. On a single night in January, there were 1,703 people without homes, still much higher than such comparably sized cities as Chicago and Baltimore, but a notable decline. If we stay focused on that common purpose; if we remember our responsibilities to ourselves and our obligations to one another; then from Texas to Florida, we can rebuild a region, and a nation, that’s worthy of our children, and worthy of the generations to come.

Forbes recently named New Orleans “America’s biggest brain magnet.” The city saw startups launched at a 64 percent higher rate than the national average from 2011 to 2013, according to the Data Center, an independent research group. Residents are then connected with case managers who oversee their medical needs, and other issues, to ensure that they can remain living independently. And on their shopping list was almost everything that could be had in these neighborhoods — a collection of Creole cottages, shotgun doubles, warehouses, and small manufacturers at a humpback bend of the Mississippi River. In the evolution of post-Katrina New Orleans, few phenomena have been more striking than the dramatic demographic shift of places such as Bywater from majority black to majority white. One census block group in Bywater dropped from 51 percent African-American before Katrina to just 17 percent afterward; the largest went from 63 percent to 32, according to an analysis of U.S. census data. “You saw all these white people.

Obviously they were displacing black people who were here before,” said Medley, an African-American historian who lives in the Marigny house where he grew up. The market, which opened in 1875, sold po’ boys and shrimp-by-the-pound in an atmosphere of rotting charm before Katrina; it now houses pricey food stalls. After Katrina, there was a rush to buy up properties in the sliver-by-the-river neighborhoods such as the Marigny and Bywater — anything that didn’t flood. Among its multi-thronged approach, the city reopened negotiations with FEMA to demolish 919 units, prioritized city funding for the rehabilitation of dilapidated properties and fixed up 520 homes belonging to low-income owners who didn’t have the funds to do so.

But after the hurricane, when Charity Hospital was forced to close its doors because the cost to repair the institution was too great, the medical community was compelled to reevaluate how it could rebuild a more resilient system that better served its entire patient population. On Aug. 1, with $1.1 billion in federal, state and private rebuilding money, the city opened the doors to the 2.3-million-sqaure-foot University Medical Center New Orleans, which replaced the destroyed Charity Hospital. An empty foundation next to a spruced-up place with bright, clean siding next to a sagging wreck with a hole in the roof next to a house with a brand-new deck.

Many of those clinics have direct links or affiliations with UMC, which allows patients to book appointments within one to two days, according to DeBlieux. While Louisiana’s largest teaching and training hospital boasts state-of-the art equipment and striking designs, DeBlieux, who worked at Charity Hospital for more than 20 years, says the mission to serve as a safety net hospital hasn’t changed one iota. But this year, there’s been a spike in violence, and the city registered its 100th murder nearly two months earlier than the year before. “The city, on balance, is far better off than before Katrina,” says the writer Jason Berry, who’s accustomed to the nightly symphony of sirens that has spread beyond the poorest sections. “But it’s still a break-your-heart kind of town.” Today’s private-public model will allow UMC to still serve indigent populations, while also making itself a competitive option for Medicaid, Medicare and commercially insured patients in order to “attract all payers.” Every room in the hospital is private, with ample space for family members to stay over.

The only exception is in the behavioral health section where sharing a room was deemed “therapeutic.” The hospital has also set a goal of developing programs that will enable patients to seek out specialty care locally at UMC, so they don’t have to travel out of state, or out of the region.

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