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Back to the Gulf - Where is the Gulf Coast Heading?

Posted By Eric Yau, Mar 25, 2008

As our van was entering the City of New Orleans, I had a feeling of inexplicable excitement. It's been two years since my last community service activity here, and I was eager to see for myself the transformations in the city since my last visit. To my dismay, it was one disappointment after another. The first building that I saw was the abandoned hotel in which I slept in during my last visit. It is still abandoned (with a huge "for sale" banner), and it seems to have deteriorated from its already dilapidated condition. The outside walls were all dirty, most of the windows were cracked, and the parking structure was filled with trash.

As I was trying to come to terms with this disappointment, the eye-soaring tent city appeared before my eyes. To make it more disturbing, the tent city is located under the overpass (next to the abandoned hotel that I stayed in) where we used to have meals when I was here last. Now, this dirty and dusty "dining hall" is filled with rows and rows of tents, occupied by people who have been kicked out from their FEMA trailers and can't afford to rent houses in the city.

I kept asking myself the same question - What is going on here? I remember the purpose of my last community service trip was to help victims clean out their homes, so they could move out of their FEMA trailers as soon as possible, and rebuild their homes in order to lead a normal life. But what I saw was the exact opposite, instead, people are moving from a trailer to a tent.

These disappointments were well illustrated during our orientation sessions at Tulane and Mississippi Center for Justice. It was mind-boggling to learn that instead of helping Katrina victims, city and state governments in both Louisiana and Mississippi are actually pursuing policies aimed at worsening the situation. In New Orleans, we have people driven from their trailers to live in tents. In Gulfport, we have government diverting federal funds earmarked for home-rebuilding being used to subsidize projects like improving ports facilities.

Personally, it was really distressing to see the situation deteriorating from bad to worse, I really hope that our work this week would create awareness in whatever ways possible of the continuing problems experienced by Katrina victims.