President Obama promised Saturday that his administration would not forget the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. He vowed to help people finish the task of rebuilding and recovery while working to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. For an assessment of the pace of recovery four years after Hurricane Katrina, we speak to lifelong New Orleans resident and civil rights attorney Tracie Washington. [includes rush transcript]
We continue on the issue of healthcare in New Orleans and where New Orleans is today, four years after the storm. Anjali?
Well, President Obama promised Saturday that his administration would not forget the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. He vowed to help people finish the task of rebuilding and recovery, while working to prevent similar catastrophes in the future.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Government must be a partner, not an opponent, in getting things done. And that’s why we’ve put in place innovative review and dispute-resolution programs to expedite recovery efforts and have freed up hundreds of millions of dollars of federal assistance that had not been distributed.
This is also allowing us to move forward with stalled projects across the Gulf Coast: building and improving schools, investing in public health and safety, and repairing broken roads, bridges and homes. And this effort has been dramatically amplified by the Recovery Act, which has put thousands of Gulf Coast residents to work.
As we complete this effort, we see countless stories of citizens holding up their end of the bargain. In New Orleans, hundreds of kids just started the school year at Langston Hughes Elementary, the first school built from scratch since Katrina. The St. Bernard Project has drawn together volunteers to rebuild hundreds of homes, where people can live with dignity and security. To cite just one hopeful indicator, New Orleans is the fastest-growing city in America, as many who’ve been displaced are now coming home.
Well, for an assessment on the pace of recovery four years after Hurricane Katrina, we’re joined in New Orleans by longtime New Orleans resident and civil rights attorney Tracie Washington, co-founder and president of the Louisiana Justice Initiative.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Tracie. As you listen to the story you just listened to at Memorial, four years ago, and talk about healthcare today, what is your assessment?
Well, good morning, Amy, and thanks for having me on the show.
I had not heard that story by Ms. Fink. I got it last night and read — began reading some of it, and it’s just tragic. And it’s unfortunate that so many of the facts we’re learning now were not made available to us in the last four years. And what we also know is that despite the promises of President Obama, which we appreciate, we’re still, in Louisiana and in New Orleans, having to deal with recovery based upon promises and not based upon rights.
Tell us the situation about healthcare in Louisiana, in New Orleans, today and the issues that you’re working on at the Justice Initiative.
Well, one of the biggest issues and problems that we’re confronting is the fact that the public hospital still has not been reopened. Charity Hospital was our largest public hospital in this region and provided some of the best services for a trauma one facility.
After Hurricane Katrina, believe it or not, in the days after and the weeks after, that hospital was prepared to take in patients. It was cleaned out by the Oklahoma National Guard. It was put in patient-ready, surgery-ready condition. The state of Louisiana, unfortunately, made a decision: look, we can get more money from the federal government and build a better hospital later, a, you know, brand new, bright new facility, if we shut this place down and pretend it was completely destroyed after the hurricane. So, we’re faced now with a state government that’s trying to go back to the federal government and ask for an additional $300-$400 million to repair a hospital that was actually repaired after Hurricane Katrina.
Unfortunately, because of that folly, we have patients who, and individuals in this community who, continue to suffer. If you have a mental health crisis, there is no public hospital, no place for you to go, except Parish Prison. So, think about that for a moment, that if you have a mental health crisis, the best place to go, the only place to go, is Parish Prison, where you can be locked up for thirty days, but you’ll get treatment.
So we’re still suffering in this community, tragically, four years after Katrina, in many cases because of lack of coordination between our state and federal government, because of fumbling by our state government, and, in my assessment, because of outright folly and potential fraud of those individuals who were just trying to get more that they don’t deserve.
Tracie Washington, we just have a minute left, but, very quickly, can you talk about the issue of race and the status of housing? You’ve worked for many years on housing rights. Talk about the number of people who are displaced, the people who are still homeless, and how race factors into this.
Well, the most marginalized of our citizens were those individuals who have had the most difficult time returning, and housing has played a — housing has been a huge barrier for those individuals, unfortunately, those individuals we can classify. And we understand that those are brown people, black and Hispanic individuals, who’ve not been able to return.
Housing costs have risen dramatically. Rents have skyrocketed; doubled and, in some areas, tripled. We tore down affordable housing, public housing in the city of New Orleans that could have been rebuilt. And we are not replacing it one for one so that those individuals who lived in subsidized housing can return, as did the rest of us who are homeowners. And finally, renters received no money from the federal government through community development block grants, only homeowners. And so, we have this part — this segment of our community that was given a one-way ticket out and have no way of returning to our city. It affects us as a community. It affects us in how we live. It affects the color of this community.
Tracie Washington —
And that’s still tragic.
We want to thank you very much for being with us and also thank our colleagues at WLAE, New Orleans, Louisiana, public television, where Tracie was talking to us from. Tracie Washington, lifelong New Orleans resident and civil rights attorney, the co-founder and president of the Louisiana Justice Initiative.