Sunday, February 12, 2006

Another Story from the Great Southwest

We heard this one the other day, about a woman who lives with her disabled adult daughter and a granddaughter in an apartment near where we're hunkered down in southwest Houston. She’s a professional with a decent job but burdensome expenses, including a three-bedroom apartment necessary to accommodate her family. But life in her complex, while far from idyllic before, has become nearly unbearable since the arrival of Katrina evacuees, an almost non-stop rolling civil disturbance of loud music, gunfire, frequent police calls and people hanging out at all hours.

The woman still retains sympathy for her neighbors who were displaced by the storm, and she understands that they aren’t all to blame for the near-breakdown of civility at her complex. But it’s gotten so bad that she’s desperate to move … except she can’t afford to.

Which got us to thinking that perhaps the mayor could wrangle some FEMA money for Houston residents who’ve had to find new place to live because of Katrina ... But seriously: It’s become apparent that the citizens and institutions bearing the greater burden of Houston’s generosity are those that probably can least afford to---most especially the public schools. As has been widely reported, the largest numbers of Katrina refugees in Houston were settled into vacant apartments in the vast plains of sprawling complexes on the southwest side, and most of the kids were enrolled in schools that already had their hands full with at-risk students from the apartments and English-as-a-second-language children of immigrants, legal and otherwise.

Just something to keep in mind the next time you see the politicians and civic leaders patting themselves on the back for all the favorable publicity the city reaped for welcoming the evacuees.

The best dispatches out of New Orleans, by the way, are being written by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose. This guy has been drawing a trenchant psychic map of uncharted territory, veering between resolution and despair and sadness and anger, usually in the same column, while maintaining a fierce sense of humor about mostly unfunny subjects. Rose has collected his post-Katrina columns in a book, with some of the proceeds being donated to relief efforts for music and the arts in New Orleans (check out his New Year's column recalling his attempt to make amends for a bottle of mouthwash he “looted” after the hurricane, and try to remain unmoved). In this profile in the Lafayette weekly The Independent, Rose says reporting and writing after the hurricane “gave me a deep and profound understanding and respect for mental illness.”


Cold blast from the recent past:

[New Orleans writer] Kalamu ya Salaam told me that he thought the suffering was far from over … For the moment, people are focused on the grace of their own survival, and are grateful for the small and large acts of compassion that have come their way. And yet, he said, “you are going to see a lot of suicides this winter. A lot of poor people depend entirely on their extended family and their friends who share their condition to be a buffer against the pain of that condition. By winter, a lot of the generosity and aid that’s been so palpable lately will begin to slow down and the reality of not going home again will hit people hard. They will be very alone.

“People forget how important all those Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs are for people. It’s a community for a lot of folks who have nothing. Some people have never left New Orleans. Some have never seen snow. So you wake up and you find yourself beyond the reach of friends, beyond the reach of members of your family, and you are working in a fast-food restaurant in Utah somewhere and there is no conceivable way for you to get back to the city you love. How are you going to feel?”

-- David Remnick, The New Yorker, Oct. 10, 2005

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