Katrina Update: Most Blacks Can’t Return; Health Crisis

By Guest Columnist May 11, 2007

This Month Mafruza Khan of the Center for Social Inclusion updates us on post-Katrina New Orleans as recovery continues to stagger along the color line. She writes: The Center for Social Inclusion’s New Orleans Recovery Report Card is a monthly report card that grades the likely ability of former residents of New Orleans to rebuild their lives. Each of the city’s 13 planning districts is graded on utilities, economy, health, housing, and public education. It finds that communities of color are faring the worst. For example: •tOur April report card shows 4 failing planning districts of which all are mostly non-white areas of the city. •tThe Lower 9th Ward and New Aurora/English Turn, both predominantly communities of color, still have no childcare. •tThe Lower 9th Ward is still the only area without complete gas, water, and electricity. •tLess than half of public transit routes and public schools are operational, straining communities of color more than white residents, as they are more dependent on public transit. •tAlmost half the city’s hospitals, including Charity, the only public hospital, remain closed. Twenty-one months after Hurricane Katrina, 56% of New Orleans residents have returned, but 70% of Blacks are still displaced. The Lower 9th Ward and N.O. East, home to poor and middle class Blacks before Hurricane Katrina, have the lowest percentage of returning population –30%. The Lower 9th Ward is also the only planning district that is still without essential infrastructure and services such as water and electricity. Both citywide and at the neighborhood level, Blacks, particularly poor ones, who made up the majority of the population in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, have the least opportunity to come back to their city and rebuild their lives. Largely missing from the national media coverage and our public conversations on rebuilding New Orleans is how flawed and discriminatory public policies are imposing the greatest barriers to entry for poor and middle-class Blacks and harming everyone. Structural racism, the interplay between our policies, institutions and practices that exclude and isolate poor communities of color from opportunities, continues today. It is not surprising that many African Americans believe that they are being deliberately locked out of their city. Consider healthcare. The decision to close Charity Hospital, New Orleans’ only public and local healthcare provider has been a huge obstacle for the poor and the working poor in New Orleans, who are trying to rebuild their homes and lives. Only the basement of Charity flooded and doctors and staff have protested the closing saying that the facility could be re-opened temporarily without major structural repairs. Fifty two percent of displaced Blacks in shelters relied on Charity Hospital for most of their medical needs–and subsequent surveys in Texas revealed that most now lack health insurance. A group of local doctors from West Jefferson Parish are now seeking $100 million in damages from the state for acting as surrogates for the Charity system for nearly two years since the storm. West Jefferson’s recruitment of new doctors has dropped by more than half from November 2006 to April 2007, and according to one of the surgeons, "The young physicians in this community, who will be the backbone of the medical community … are all considering leaving," the L.A. Times reported May 1. A serious health care crisis abounds. Similar structural barriers to opportunity in housing, education, jobs and other essential community infrastructure and services confront Blacks and other poor communities in New Orleans. There are media reports that African Americans returning to New Orleans are being blatantly discriminated against in the housing market. To learn more, check out our Hurricane Katrina Project.Mafruza Khan is Deputy Director at the Center for Social Inclusion.