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As we drove out of New Orleans on August 28, 2005, we never thought we would be returning to the mess that was once our city, nearly one month later. Mine isn’t a story of great triumph or devastating loss. Fortunately, my family’s personal losses are few—a little damage here and there, but nothing totally ruined. We are among the few lucky ones. While our suffering may be significantly less than most, some within my family circle are certainly grappling with the realization that state and local leadership disappeared before, during, and after the storm.

This was not much of a surprise to me. During New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s administration, the poor have suffered more than under any other past city administration. Programs for the neediest in the community dwindled into oblivion, as his administration overlooked the large segment of mostly African-Americans living well below the poverty line. Attempts by members of this group to obtain employment though workforce programming were stymied by ineffective leadership in the city’s Workforce Investment programs. People assessed as “not promising” were simply turned away, or purposefully put through a maze of hurdles, strategically placed to stunt both determination and spirit. Local leadership, partnered with federal incentives, consistently aimed to further injure the members of this community. Available Section 8 property numbers dwindled and subsidized housing units were slated to be demolished, only to be replaced by upscale residential communities, inaccessible to the poor. Due to this overwhelming lack of concern, city morale was at an all-time low, long before the introduction of Hurricane Katrina.

As for Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco’s response, this, too, was not excessively shocking. Even before the storm, her failures in office far outweighed any success. She proved herself to be more of a politician than a leader. True concern had always been for no one but herself and her own personal power. Louisiana has the distinction of being one of the most impoverished states in the nation. With this in mind, Mrs. Blanco envisioned the opportunity to capitalize on this designation. By proclamation, she ordered community meetings on poverty, throughout the state. Each individual parish invited hundreds of agencies that worked with the poor to discuss the causes of poverty. Needless to say, few people who were actually living below the poverty line were invited to attend. The outcome of the meetings was that a poor public education system and an overwhelming lack of employment opportunities largely contributed to this state of being. These community meetings finally culminated in one large “summit,” held in North Louisiana, far from most of the state’s impoverished communities. To gather a representative group of poor, a select few had to be bused in. During the “Solutions to Poverty Summit,” everyone was told of the “root causes of poverty” by representatives of each individual community meeting. Further, garnering everyone’s astonishment, the gathered groups were informed that the state government would not be able to financially support any systemic changes or implement any new programming for the poor. Attendees were urged to find their own funding sources to battle the evils of need. On the bright side, however, further meetings were promised to talk about possible solutions to poverty. The plan seemed to be to instigate more conversation without any promise of action. What a thoroughly positive and uplifting experience.

Here we are in the aftermath of a great storm. The ball of blame is still being passed from one level of government to the other. Everyone knows of the federal government’s shortcomings, but this article might give some insight into state and local dysfunction. Perhaps, local leaders were using this storm as a “Solution to Poverty.” Seemingly, they simply did not care about the people who could not afford to evacuate. Everyone wants to lambaste the media, but, perhaps, it was the media who actually saved the lives of thousands of innocent people. Without press coverage of the insurmountable injustice, many might have been left to perish in the sea of red tape known as Louisiana politics.



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The following comments are for "Forsaken in Katrina -- the State and Local Response"
by CWMaxwell





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