Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thousands being evicted in New Orleans

On February 13, leases were due to expire for a lot of homeless New Orleans residents and workers, who have been temporarily housed by FEMA around the city in hotels and on cruise ships. With the Mardi Gras holiday approaching, and expected tourist influx, temporary residents are being forced to find other shelter.

On Monday, February 16, thousands of people were served with eviction notices. FEMA's transitional housing program is supposed to aid New Orleans residents through the entire process of relocation to a permanent (or semi-permanent) home. But hundreds of trailers brought in by rail are sitting unused, and people staying temporarily at hotels are overwhelming the FEMA call centers for extensions on their temporary housing at hotels. Some people have received extensions, but even that does not mean staying is a sure thing--some hotel managers are doing room inspections and choosing who can stay and who must go.

See New Orleans Housing Emergency Action Team, No-Heat, and the People's Hurricane Relief Fund.

From the PHRF's website:

People’s Hurricane Relief Fund Statement on Gulf South Housing Crisis, February 9th, 2006

In the wake of thousands of hotel evictions on Tuesday and with thousands more being made homeless in the weeks to come, hurricane Katrina survivors are continuing to struggle for long term housing, a right to return to their communities and justice in the rebuilding process. Government failure on housing issues has manifested in several ways:

1) FEMA and the Federal Government have failed to comply with the Stafford Act, which specifically states that those impacted by a national disaster would receive housing and assistance for 18 months. It has been less than 6 months. The US government is out of compliance with civil and international law and should be held accountable for failing to make housing justice a reality.

2) Not only are people being evicted from hotel rooms and struggling to get trailers, but many communities are also under threat of corporate takeover from the Baker Bill. This disastrous plan will put property into the hands of wealthy developers and leave hurricane survivors without any chance of rebuilding their communities or contributing to decisions about how rebuilding takes place.

3) Although Congressional Black Caucus Bill HR 4197 has been drafted as a long-term plan for housing, a recovery, this bill has not yet received critical attention in congress nor has it moved towards a vote.

Many Survivors have organized into a grassroots coalition called the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition. We are working to fight home demolitions without notice and illegal evictions, for the rights and means to return and rebuild our lives and our communities and for a process to seek justice. Without federal support, however, some relief and rebuilding efforts have been stalled in the arbitrary process of FEMA and the needs and voices of community action are being silenced by corporate greed. It is time for the Federal government to stand up for the human rights of survivors: by empowering communities to lead their own relief process and by passing legislation that makes affordable housing a national priority.

We are reaching out to all justice loving people to join The People’s Hurricane Fund on February 13th and March 1st, to oppose government enforced mass homelessness and to call for long-term housing options with community control of property decisions.

From Indymedia New Orleans:

On March 1st, the New Orleans homeless population will skyrocket, and the basic rights of Katrina survivors will be trampelled again. FEMA's short-term hotel program expires for virtually all of the thousands of displaced hurricane survivors and most of these evacuees have not been provided with long-term, or even transitional housing solutions. For those lucky enough to have gained access to FEMA's long-term resources, many have been told they must live far from their jobs, far from homes needing repair, and out of reach of their communities. Transitional housing is meant to aid people in fixing up their houses and reclaiming their previous lives. Despite not having any local long-term housing for the hotel guests, mercenary security groups are on call to evict people at gun point. There are three groups of people who are making the decision to evict these people; these three groups should be the targets of our dissent.
a friend of mine has been in New Orleans for the past few months, working as an organizer for Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund. Ingrid is a part of the Catalyst Project in the bay area. here is her latest email:

Date: Thu, 16 Feb 2006 21:09:26 -0800
From: Ingrid
Subject: Ingrid in New Orleans update 2

Hey all,

I want to thank folks who have written or called to check in with me and offer support. I have been missing you all a lot. And have been feeling so much love and appreciation for my folks back in the bay and other friends I have been in touch with. I am sorry that I am not sending out more frequent updates. So much happens here every day. This is a long email, but also just scrapes the surface of everything that is going on.

This last weekend and Monday were real hard. There is so much crazy shit happening and not the resources we need in terms of organizers. Thousands of people were evicted Monday from the hotels here thousands more will most likely be evicted on the 1st of March, totaling around 10,000 people. The organizing for Monday's evictions was very last minute. Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund has been organizing with survivors all over the city but the connection to organizing tenets in the hotels that were facing eviction has been limited. We fliered all the major hotels that were housing FEMA guests on Friday. Saturday night we had a meeting of about 30 people from the hotels. Sunday morning did a small action that the residents had decided on at one of the FEMA trailer parks demanding that they give the empty trailers to folks being evicted. Sunday night had another meeting with folks staying at the hotels, had less folks maybe 20 residents and decided on a protest at city hall that morning and to do outreach at all the major hotels that morning for it. Monday morning was for the most part a failure. We missed many people who had left the night before and people who were leaving through out the day. Many folks did get extensions until March 1st after calling FEMA dozens and dozens of time until they could finally find some one who would work with them. It is unclear how many people were evicted out of the 10,000 and it is unclear where they all went. Many were taken in by family members and friends but many did not have that as an option. The Gov had set up busses to take people to a shelter in Baton Rouge. But most people who were staying in the hotels have jobs in New Orleans so they can't be bused out of the city.

I know this kind of stuff is happening constantly every where but it is on such a large scale here. It is hard to believe that this kind of cruelty can just keep coming. People have gone through so much and the extreme disregard for their safety and lives just keeps coming. And what do we do. The total desperation, talking to folks the last couple days and these are folks who came out to a meeting to try and organize something. Trying to fight back as a group. I feel like my heart keeps on breaking but I can't let it out because everyone is going through so much and they are trying to hold it together.

We had a few very small victories amongst all the horrible loss. We had decided with residents to go to one hotel at 7 am were the owner was interviewing people one by one who had gotten a FEMA extension until March 1st and inspecting their rooms and then would decide whether he would let them stay. So we had a couple folks from PHRF there and some New York Times reporters and independent documentary filmmaker there to support the tenants. In the end no one who had the extension were evicted from that hotel. Also Sunday night a family came to the meeting who had been put out of there hotel early so after the meeting we went with them to the hotel and made the front desk lady so nervous with our crew in the lobby that she soon allowed the family back into the hotel. I have to hold onto the small victories when so much horrible stuff is going down.

We have a couple weeks to prepare for the march 1st evictions so organizers with PHRF will be going out to hotels daily and building relationships with folks and inviting them to the survivors meetings, which happen every Saturday. Plugging them into the larger network of residents organizing. An idea is to potentially trying to make living space for folks in the lower 9th ward in houses that others have offered up for residents to stay in while they are rebuilding there home. This is part of the strategy of getting people back into the lower ninth and occupying the land making it harder for developers to just take it.

Yesterday I went to the save our lands reconstruction work group meeting of mostly lower 9th ward residents. We talked about a plan for going block by block gutting houses, tarpping roofs and getting houses structurally sound and the basics repaired. Prioritizing houses of people who will let other residents stay in their home wile they are rebuilding other homes. We talked about the basic things that people need to return home like schools, healthcare, jobs and food. So we talked about trying to get into the Martin Luther King elementary school and fixing that up so it can open. Which would also take a bunch of legal and political work, as it is a public school. Talked about trying to get funding to set up apprenticeship programs through the rebuilding effort that people get paid $10 per hour and healthcare while learning a trade. We talked about trying to find land to build a grocery store, because there was no grocery store even before the hurricanes and the need to pressure banks to make loans to black people. We talked about the levee which the government has not even begun rebuilding and rebuilding a section of the levee them selves demonstrating the govs lack accountability and action to secure the safety of black residents in the lower ninth.

The reconstruction work group comes out of a larger body of residents that are mostly from the lower ninth ward but also from other parts of the city. They have and organizing work group, which strategizes on how to bring people back to New Orleans and get them involved in the organizing efforts, media work group, finance and fundraising work group, which PHRF has handed over the money it has raised to be managed by the survivors in this work group and the reconstruction work group. At the Saturday meetings all the work groups report back to the larger body and get feedback on the priorities and strategies for work they are taking on.

The main work I have been doing with PHRF has been working on building and supporting the reconstruction work group. The first 3 weeks I was actually doing a lot of carpentry work on our first house in the upper 9th. Then the direction of the reconstruction workgroup shifted and will be moving our work into the lower ninth but is taking a good amount of time supporting the residents coming together and building the leadership that will be directing the physical reconstruction work and the organizational form it will take.

The other main thing I have been working on is supporting organizing efforts within common ground to be building a stronger anti-racist culture and practice. This is difficult as it always is among large groups of mostly white activists but slowly slowly things are building. We started and anti-racism committee that is trying to strategize around how to work with the Thousands (I am not exaggerating) of mostly white volunteers who will be coming to New Orleans to work with common ground during spring break. Which is pretty crazy considering there is a huge housing crisis and there is very few affordable places for residents who want to live here, with many of the homes still being uninhabitable and major price gouging of rents by land lords. In most areas the rents have quadrupled or sextupled. Even PHRF is going to have hundreds of mostly black students come through out March to volunteer. On top of all the ongoing organizing and the March 1st evictions we have a couple weeks to figure out the logistics for housing, food, political education and coordination of all these students. Oh it is a little over whelming.

OK that was a long email. Congratulations if you made it all the way through. For those of you who did not get my first email update it is below. I miss you all and hope you are doing well.

Update #1

Hey all,

So I don't even know where to start. I have been in New Orleans for 2 weeks and it feels like 6 months. I have felt totally inspired, angry, sad, despair, hope, appreciation, love, frustration, empowerment, humility all so intensely in such a short amount of time. I feel like I am learning a million lessons a minute in terms of organizing, solidarity, leadership and power. I feel that right now in New Orleans this is a historic moment with so much potential and possibility for building a movement of working class folks that is unstoppable and can really inspire and impact organizing all over this country.

Two examples of meeting I attended in the last 24 hours. Last night I attended a meeting of migrant workers from all over who are camping out at the city park and paying over $300 a month to live in a tent at the park and $5 per shower. These workers are rebuilding New Orleans. The park has been mostly segregated into different camp sites of Latino workers, Apache workers, white workers, and black workers with racial tensions and divisions super high. Who with the help of organizers from the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund came together, created a list of demands of basic necessities such as having the port-o-potties cleaned more often, free hot showers, more water spigots distributed through out the sight, a formal eviction process, a first aid tent and other things of that nature. A private company called Storm Force had gotten a contract with the city park to set up these camp sights and charge people all this money but wanted to give in return nothing and were threatening to evict everyone off the land using the national guard.

Last night the campers met with the company management in the dark with only the light of a fire in a metal garbage can a few flash lights. A spokes person picked by the campers presented the demands and the management had to respond. Management was so scared one of them even started crying. They did not agree to all the demands but small victories were made and negotiations will continue. The campers are no longer at this point under threat of eviction, and won some victories, but most importantly to me they came together and organized despite racial divides and tensions and showed there power through organizing and can serve as a model or inspiration for other workers in New Orleans right now.

Today I went to a meeting of residents of the lower ninth ward. We met in this small blue house that common ground folks had fixed up. It is a block away from where the barge hit the levee. It looks like a massive bomb went off, most of the houses right there no longer exist they are piles of wood, gravel, glass, rusty metal and peoples personal belongings. Non of the residents can actually live there but 50 or so of them return there twice a week to meet share their stories, their struggles and discus how it is they can bring there neighbors back, stop the land grab, rebuild there homes and communities and organize a strong force of survivors that can do this against tremendous odds. These folks have lost so much, their homes, friends and family members and the government is trying to take even more. Solidarity is almost not an option for many residents. I can see the pain and the fire in there eyes. They have to do this, they can do this. They need support but the collective will is there. As folks outside New Orleans we must not let the collective conscious die away from the situation here. It is so important for all of us who are struggling for a just world. I know the movement here can strengthen the movement every where. But folks need solidarity from outside New Orleans, cause the odds are high, but the will is here.

I have decided to stay until the end of February. I will not be able to follow through on many of my responsibilities for the month of February and I don't want to be a flake, but I know that nothing will fall apart with out me there cause the folks I work with are all solid. I feel there is a lot I can contribute down here and learn. In particular there are hundreds of mostly young white volunteers from outside New Orleans with Common Ground who need some support right now. They have a huge operation providing tones of needed services, but you can imagine what happens when you bring together 250 young white folks and put them in the middle of African American community devastated by more than the unfortunate average of racial and class exploitation. There are folks who are reflecting and trying to figure out how to move the culture and structure of the organization to an anti-racist one but need support. I have always a tone to learn but I also have some experience and lessons I have learned that I can use to support this work. And I feel like I can not walk away from this right now. This work is vital in terms of the movement down here and what direction it goes. This support has been asked of me and I feel this is a moment right now that I must engage in.

There is so much more I could say and stories I could share but I feel over whelmed trying to write it all down plus is would be a hella long email. So please feel free to call. When I find time to talk it helps me process and provides me an opportunity to get the word out about what it is I am seeing and experiencing. I will write again later and let you know more about the specific projects I am working on but this is it for now. I will miss you all but will be back before you know it.

Love and Struggle,


Post a Comment

<< Home