Two years into the human rights disaster that resulted from Hurricane Katrina, thousands of New Orleans residents that were evacuated are still displaced . Due to a dearth in affordable housing stock, and with the majority of public housing still shuttered and facing demolition, long-term healthy alternatives remain illusive for those who wish to return.
People nationwide are urged to support the struggle of New Orleans residents and to uphold their right to return.
What can you do?
-Help ensure that the Senate passes a bill to address the Gulf Coast housing crisis immediately. Your Senators can help bring them home. Call them today and ask them to support the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act (S. 1668). To reach your Senator's office, just call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121.
One Woman's Story
Odessia Lewis has worked her entire life, including years as a New Orleans city bus driver. Prior to Katrina, she lived in the Lafitte public housing development, a collection of sturdy brick apartments with pitched slate roofs and low-rise construction.
Since the storm hit on August 29th, 2005, her neighbors, her community, and the social fabric of her life have been traded for a cramped FEMA trailer in a guarded parking lot full of the same approximately 2 miles from her former home, from which she will be evicted at the end of October. At 62 years old, the stress of being locked out of her apartment, living in a FEMA trailer and the possibility of being homeless have taken a severe toll on Ms. Lewis' mental health.
After the storm, Ms. Lewis went to her daughter's house in Florida and returned to New Orleans when the mandatory evacuation was lifted. Her zip code was one of the last that allowed people to re-enter. When she returned, she found that her apartment- with all her belongings inside - had been locked and covered with metal plates barring entry.
Ms. Lewis has asked repeatedly to be allowed to return to her apartment to clean and fix it up so she can move back in. She even offered to do all the work herself and with friends at no cost. She fears she will join the ever-growing ranks of the city's homeless population because there is no place for poor working people, many of whom are African-American, to live in New Orleans.
Tens of thousands of displaced residents staying in New Orleans or other cities across the Gulf Coast find themselves in the same predicament. Help bring Miss Odessia home. Help uphold the Right to Return.
The Right of Return
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the "UN Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)" to offer protection for people displaced by violence or natural disaster.
The Guiding Principles addresses the gap that exists between international and domestic law in protection of IDPs. When individuals cross international borders to secure life and liberty, they may be protected as refugees if they fear persecution on return. As nationals within their own country, however, IDPs are dependent on often antagonistic or non-responsive governments that allowed or enabled the conditions that created displacement.
According to the Guiding Principles, the United States government must provide Katrina IDPs with the choice to return to their former homes or to resettle. IDPs should be informed about the true conditions and future plans of their neighborhoods and of resettlement options. If IDPs return, the government should provide assistance for reestablishing livelihoods and communities. IDPs should also be allowed to influence the future of housing and public facilities and infrastructure, and play an active part in the planning and management of their return and reintegration.
The public housing units in New Orleans must be reopened and restored, and specific care must be taken to ensure permanent displacement does not change the character of an area by race or class. Residents should also be enfranchised to play a role in shaping the long-term decisions of how they will be kept safe from future displacement and how their long-term housing needs will be met.
The true civilization is where every man gives to every other
Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899)