How are you supposed to move on when everyday you are reminded of the life you once had? When everyday life causes you to have flashbacks of a place you once and will forever call home? This is the question that thousands throughout the Gulf Coast face every day of their lives, one year after Hurricane Katrina hit and destroyed everything that they owned. Katrina’s destruction didn’t evaporate with the floodwaters, but forges ahead with federal and local government failures, false promises and post traumatic stress.
There are many victims in different places across the country dealing with being surrounded by the faces of strangers, while others are determined to stay in the place they grew up. Houston, Texas is just one of the destinations that thousands of evacuees from New Orleans found themselves. They were first met with open arms, but things have quickly changed over the last year.
Sheitan Steele is just one life-long New Orleanian who wound up in Texas after seeing that Katrina was headed straight for New Orleans. “We headed to Sugarland, Texas to my cousin’s home. When arriving in Sugarland, which is twenty minutes from Houston, we were treated great, the people were sympathizing with us and showing lots of care and love.” Texas indeed appeared to be the perfect high ground for those who found themselves swimming out of their homes in New Orleans.
The city of Houston housed over 150,000 evacuees after Katrina made landfall just east of New Orleans. The city went out of its way to make sure those effected by the storm had a place to rest their heads and clothes on their back. The out poring of sympathy soon ended when Houstonians began to see the rapid changes their city was going through. “I guess we have worn our welcome out. Now we are being treated as if we are from a third world country,” Steele said.
The goodwill of the citizens of Houston helped pave the way to a quick reality of the problems that occur as a result of housing so many displaced people. Houston’s public schools filled up rapidly, housing became an issue with thousands of evacuees living in Federal Emergency Management Agency provided hotel rooms, only to be evicted after federal aid ran out.
Crime is present in every big city, and it’s been on the rise in Houston since Katrina. According to police officials, crime has risen 18 percent in the past year and many of the crimes involve Katrina victims.
Jobs also became a problem. According to the Los Angeles Times, 59 percent of evacuees are still currently unemployed. Steele, who was always with a job in New Orleans, found herself being unemployed for an entire year. “They feel we are living off of Houston money and they also refused to hire us as if we have never worked before.”
Around every corner, evacuees have found a new and not-so-surprising challenge, one being their disappointment with the federal government. Federal aid has been somewhat a privilege and not a right. Steele said, “Bush is holding back on the money. He showed he did not care about New Orleanians on August 29, 2005, and it’s September 2006, and he is showing that he still doesn’t give a damn.”
Inconstancy is the standard, confusing letters from the FEMA, arrive in the mail nearly every week, one saying you are eligible for rental assistance, and the other saying you have received the maximum assistance. Steele gets heated when discussing the way FEMA has made her and her family members feel.
“FEMA feels as if they are giving the people that receive FEMA assistance something, no sweetie that is the taxes that is taken out of our checks,” she said.
Those still toughing it out in the city of New Orleans are surprised when they actually get a FEMA trailer and were even more surprised to hear that the key to that trailer would probably open up their neighbors across the street and a trailer in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. According to an article published on MSNBC.com, “FEMA provided about 77,000 trailers for Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Louisiana. One manufacturer cut only 50 different patterns for the first set of locks used in the trailers.”
Those from New Orleans such as Steele have also had to deal with the embarrassment caused by local government officials. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin has continuously put his foot in his mouth concerning the touchy subject of race in New Orleans saying that the city would once again be “chocolate.” “If I had a magic wand, I would change Ray ‘Good For Nothing’ Nagin. I have been there three times since the storm and I only see the tourists attractions being rebuilt. Nagin made a comment that the tourist are the bread and butter for New Orleans. Wrong answer, the citizens are the bread and butter for the city of New Orleans,” Steele said.
Tourism has historically been the biggest moneymaker in New Orleans. “Yes tourism has a big part of bringing money to the city, but the citizens of New Orleans are the ones who work in the places where the tourists have to sleep, eat and shop. If you have few workers, the tourists won’t have anywhere to enjoy themselves,” Steele said.
The evacuees are from a place that is unlike any other, they are from a city that prides itself on having heart and soul, but those affected see their patience and faith in the government subsiding faster than the floodwaters did from their own homes.
Those like Steele know that the road will be much longer, but they are looking for straight answers and to return home. Steels said, “I have plans to go back to New Orleans. That’s home. I miss the southern hospitality. I hope people can continue to pray and ask the good Lord to continue to give us strength to move forward and look to the future.”