Post-Hurricane, New Orleans Residents Still Don’t Have Homes

By Jonathan Adams May 28, 2008

As New Orleans gears up for another hurricane season, many Big Easy residents still don’t have homes. "Chocolate City" Mayor Ray Nagin says he was just joking when he suggested that they should give the thousand without homes "one-way bus tickets out of town." But a survey by advocacy groups says that the people living under the highways are New Orleans residents-many mentally ill or with addiction problems-left homeless after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

While many of the homeless do have addiction problems or mental illness, a survey by advocacy groups in February showed that 86 percent were from the New Orleans area. Sixty percent said they were homeless because of Hurricane Katrina, and about 30 percent said they had received rental assistance at one time from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Though resources typically don’t fully meet the need of homeless people in urban areas, New Orleans had even less to work with after the storm.

New Orleans had 2,800 beds for the homeless before the storm; now it has 2,000, Ms. Kegel said. Those beds are full, but even if they were not, many of the people living on Canal Street are not the sort who can stay in a group shelter. According to the survey, which was conducted before dawn one morning so that only those who actually sleep in the camp would be counted, 80 percent have at least one physical disability, 58 percent have had some kind of addiction, 40 percent are mentally ill, and 19 percent were “tri-morbid” — they had a disability, an addiction and mental illness.

People need permanent housing. Especially when FEMA trailers built with materials that expose residents to formaldehyde gas threaten the lives of children, Katrina’s most vulnerable victims.

"It’s tragic that when people most need the protection, they are actually going from one disaster to a health disaster that might be considered worse," said Christopher De Rosa, assistant director for toxicology and risk assessment at the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the CDC. "Given the longer-term implications of exposure that went on for a significant period of time, people should be followed through time for possible effects."

All joking aside, finding homes for New Orleans residents should continue to be the top priority for all government officials. These people– people of color and poor people–are without the resources to reestablish themselves; they are sick and need medical care; they need real homes.