Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Necessity of Money

It is easy to react with contempt and incredulity at the people of New Orleans who are not leaving the city in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav, especially after Katrina's destruction only three years prior. But that does not take into account something rather rudimentary, and that is money. Some of these people do not have the money to get out, to pay for shelter during their time away from their home, and to continue living on while they are without work. For some, the reality is that they are forced to stay. Michael Kennedy, a dishwasher, says:
Most people don't have cars to leave, don't have money for gas. Pay for a hotel that long? I mean, you have to do whatever you have to do, and I guess I'm gonna stay and work.
Jeremiah O'Farrell, another dishwasher:
If I left, I'll probably lose my job. I really don't have anywhere to go if I could leave.
Sidney Williams:
I wish I had the money to go... ....Lot of folks around here are gonna make do with what they have, and you won't hear a terrible amount of complaining. You can't just come in here and expect to hear people fussing about how they don't have nothing.
Mayor Ray Nagin warned "residents that staying would be 'one of the biggest mistakes of your life'", and "emphasized that the city will not offer emergency services to anyone who chooses to stay behind". But for too many, staying behind is not an independent choice, but a decision tempered by other factors. And even though the city is providing transportation for those who have no other way out to shelters in northern Louisiana, that does not protect the poorest (or just poor) from losing their source of income. It does not offer much in the way of actual shelter or assistance once the storm is over and they return (or not) to their old lives, with less than they had before and very possibly no way to pay for necessities like food and shelter.

It is easy to blame the poor, the immigrants frightened of deportation, the disabled, and the wary for their fate in this storm. But that isn't the whole story. It doesn't take into account that these are people existing on the precipice, and it doesn't take into account that people -regardless of race, gender, or income level- deserve to feel safe enough and secure enough in their position to take whatever assistance is available in preparation for the onslaught of the storm. But that isn't the reality these people who are staying in New Orleans live with. They aren't guaranteed anything after the storm dissipates and life returns to some semblance of normalcy. And that is a modern injustice and a tragedy.


John said...

well, there is one very important factor that the workers staying behind for fear of losing their jobs may have ignored: There's a decent chance that their place of business will be completely destroyed by the storm! Would you rather risk losing your job, or losing your life when your workplace literally crumbles around you? Besides, with so many residents evacuating, how many customers do these owners expect to get?

Sure, it would be better if FEMA and related organizations could get everyone out by free bus and house everyone in free shelters until well after the storm abates, then set each survivor up with relief funds to offset the damages, but it may not be logistically possible in the very short amount of time they have.

As far as helping people get back on their feet after the storm, I don't think our government can afford to give the dispossessed everything they need to get their lives back together. Until we get the chance to vote for a candidate that supports greater disaster relief funding (and unemployment and welfare budgets) on election day, the only thing we can do as citizens is donate to charitable organizations.
Remember to be be careful which one you choose, and pay attention to where your money will be going!

mikhailbakunin said...

I have to agree with John. This seems so irrational to me.

1) If you're a legal citizen, an employer can't fire you for leaving during a hurricane - especially when the government has issued mandatory evacuations.

2) Living without money or shelter is better than braving a hurricane. Given a choice between possible death and economic uncertainty, I'd have to go with economic uncertainty.

3) The government has (as far as I know) offered transportation to those without it. I understand that illegal immigrants are wary of accepting government support, but I would rather risk deportation than death.

I really hope that people weigh temporary (though legitimate) concerns about quality of life against the possibility of getting killed in a hurricane.

petpluto said...

"3) The government has (as far as I know) offered transportation to those without it."

The government also, after the last hurricane, placed displaced people in trailers that are now thought to have contained some pretty seriously bad shit. So I can understand people who, having been screwed or known others who have been screwed by the government before, not reacting in good faith this time around.

") Living without money or shelter is better than braving a hurricane. Given a choice between possible death and economic uncertainty, I'd have to go with economic uncertainty."

Thing is, these people are already living with economic uncertainty. Most in this situation live from miniscule paycheck to paycheck, and without that being without money entirely. I don't know how that feels. I have money squared away, and I have plenty of family members who make enough to take me in if I ever really needed that. But a lot of people do not, so I find it hard to judge their choices based the idea that they aren't taking enough into consideration. Do I want them to get out? Yes, of course. I also want them to have the money necessary to do things like buy food and some shelter if they are displaced for a long time as well, though, and that is something they have a hard enough time getting NOW.

mikhailbakunin said...

This is kind of going off on a tangent, but . . . FEMA didn't manufacture those travel trailers and it doesn't set indoor air quality standards.

The primary manufacturer of the trailers, Gulf Stream Coach Inc., actually wrote letters to FEMA, telling them that the formaldehyde levels in the trailers fell below OSHA standards.

An investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee basically concluded that the manufacturers were at fault. So, I don't think it's fair to hold the government responsible.

I guess this doesn't change the fact that people will be suspicious of FEMA travel trailers, but it's not really the government they should be wary of.