Monday, September 05, 2005

Now, on to the long-term...

As can be expected, it looks like now that the Church is aware of the scope of the situation with Katrina, it is now coming through. At 8:30 AM on Sunday morning a representative of FEMA was at my home church explaining what their needs were. By noon, when we brought the load the church had gathered to the refuge at the Chisholm Community Center (in Montgomery, not Troy), they turned us away, and instead we had to take it all down to a warehouse for storage. It seems that when Sunday hit, lots of churches gathered relief supplies together.

It seems to me that we are now shifting into long-term care and settlement. People don't seem to be talking openly much about settlement; I suspect it is not considered in good taste. But since I don't have good taste, I'll do it.

Long-term, refugees need jobs. We aren't talking about the mentally ill, or drug addicts, or just plain bums -- the usual stereotype of the homeless. We're talking about people used to the dignity of earning their own living. The larger problem, I think, is that every refugee with whom I've spoken wants a short-term job.

Time for a dose of reality. Many refugees, perhaps even most, are never going back.

Consider this: Some parts of the Gulf coast will quickly be re-settled. I know of people already returning to Mississippi now that their power is back. Some coastal towns, though, are destroyed. And, of course, New Orleans is evacuated until at least after Thanksgiving.

Assuming there are no more small hurricanes or tropical storms to hit these areas (a pretty big assumption considering we are barely past the start of hurricane season), and refugees get back before Christmas, many of them will be returning to learn that their homes are completely destroyed. Others will return to find that their house still stands, but is unlivable without major repair -- and everyone will be trying to repair simultaneously, so that only real do-it-yourselfers will have a chance to get their home repaired quickly (my own home still has some damage from Hurricane Ivan last year, but the local contractors are overwhelmed by the constuction boom). Others will return to find that their home is still there and livable with only minor repair ... but their job is gone.

Given this situation, some will decide it is time to retire. Some will decide that their kids have laid down roots in their host community, and that it is dangerous to take them back to a city filled with abandoned buildings. Some will have found a better job in their host community then they ever had back home. Some will simply decide that they like their host community better. Many will never return.

So, in addition to the physical needs of the refugees, the host communities need to help the refugees transform into local citizens. Gently, perhaps, but it needs to be done.

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