Kathleen Johnson 10/10/06 Special to GCN Filed 10/12/06
Kathleen Johnson is a long term volunteer who has been working in Mississippi since just after the storm. Currently Kathleen is working at the City of Waveland City Hall under the umbrella of the Waveland Citizens Fund a 501 ( c ) 3 as the Director of Katrina Relief.
The reality in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi can be seen in the building permits in the front window of almost every home fading fast due to the hot summers sun analogous to the hopes of the occupants battling insurance companies, waiting on long promised grants, and waiting on volunteers to complete work when materials become available.
It is impossible to reconcile the incongruity between volunteers helping the people of Waveland and developers seeking to profit from reconstruction. And added to that dilemma is the reality that neither money nor an updated building code is going to save the area from the next devastating storm with a 20 foot tidal surge. It happened before in 1969, it happened in 2005, and it will happen again. The rest of the world believes this is all “fixed” and have moved to other endeavors and interests.
We, as volunteers, toil on as this is all part of the long term recovery plan for those that have chosen to stay. Owners of 80,000 homes in Mississippi want to get their homes built in the next six months. Reality dictates it will take up to five years. Someone will be first, someone will be last. All are on one waiting list or another. All believe they are at the top of the list somewhere and no one wants to burst their bubble and suggest that we might have to go to a lottery for volunteer assistance in order to make this equitable.
Summer has hidden a lot of the remaining debris in the vegetation. Winter approaches fast and nature will reveal all that long lost debris from under the vines of summer. FEMA is left to track down and haul off the dwindling elusive debris one piece at a time and note the spiraling unit cost of cleanup. Now it’s down to “hunt and peck” whereas before it was everywhere and within easy reach.
The Long Term Recovery Committees battle politics – both internal and external brought on by the lack of true leadership, funds, the never ending grant writing saga and a critical shortage of Case Managers – paid or volunteer. Post traumatic stress is showing clearly on the long term volunteers who have remained steadfast despite the overwhelming demands on their time and dwindling volunteer resources due to lack of preemptive marketing. No one allowed a budget for a marketing plan to recruit volunteers. No one is truly marketing on a National scale as there is no entity in charge of that part of the equation. Nor has any organization stepped in to take on that task although many have suggested it would be a “good idea” at the never ending meetings coordinators and case managers attend on a weekly basis. The Hancock Long Term Recovery Committee can not even agree to give its participating members a list of the homes they have accepted into the program – the net result some organizations find themselves working on a home that is on the LTRC list by accident and not by design thus complicating the LTRC response. Of the 46 projects the LTRC have accepted that fit their stringent guidelines – only one has been completed and it has been weeks since any of the Case Managers have been given an update. Any complaints are ignored and emails remained unanswered with the committee leaders believing the problems will go away if they avoid the issues.
And the success is measured one house at a time – and events are truly a joyous. No one really knows how many – no one entity is collecting the data. Prior to the storm Waveland had 10,000 residents. At the anniversary of Katrina in 2006 it was estimated that 2,500 had come back home. No one really knows – the needs assessment for Hancock County has only returned 1400 complete responses for the entire County. By design the method of data collection for the Needs Assessment was going to reveal a hit and miss response as there was no follow up on the non responsive addresses. Paperwork is so overwhelming that most have long tired of requests to fill in forms – so a non responsive address does not reveal a true result.
Nor do we know how many volunteers are on the ground, the organizations they represent, or their long term plans on continued assistance. There never was a mandate to register the volunteers or the organizations. The structure of assistance is a conglomerate that forces the home owners to go from church to church, disaster relief organization to disaster relief organization – registering on each and every list they can find.
The lack of an overall plan for reconstruction is clearly showing in the end result – slow return of the region to its former population levels, and the fact that only 12,000 trailers have been returned in Mississippi alone in over a year since the storm.
It is time for a Volunteer Summit with all participating Volunteer Organizations invited in order to develop a comprehensive plan and elect a panel to oversee the volunteer response and develop a marketing plan to attract more volunteers. This panel needs a true leader; consisting of members with a comprehensive vision and the patience and wisdom of Job who truly have worked in the trenches on the ground and know the nuts of bolts of what it takes to get the job done. They must be able to separate themselves from ego, overwhelming personalities, personal agendas and individual mission statements of the participating organizations and work towards an end result that benefits all the victims equitably despite their varying fiscal abilities to recover. It is time to develop a comprehensive recovery Master Plan.