Quick Reopening of Schools is Key to Recovery if You Care about Your People

New Orleans   The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has 287 schools. There are 20 school districts in Harris County. Our union represents school workers. We were on the phones with anyone we knew last week in Houston, calling our members to assess their situation and offer assistance in filling out FEMA forms or anything else they might need. We were also talking to managers up and down the district about the reopening, the number of schools that would be involved, and how workers would be deployed. At one point it looked like only a few more than 30 would be unable to open two weeks after the storm and at other times as many as 80. The final number on opening day seems in the mid-50 range, but the key accomplishment in Houston, and a huge lesson learned from Katrina, was that school in fact did open, come hell or high water.

After Katrina the tragic error made by everyone connected to the New Orleans school system started with the decision to keep schools closed. Obviously the storm was worse and schools were damaged, but blowing off the school year created irreversible harm, that the city has not recovered from after a dozen years. Families with school age children, often traumatized by the storm and unable to find housing and often with jobs in jeopardy as well, were forced to stay where they were sheltered or evacuated, find housing, enroll school age children in school, and find jobs, making it hard to return and hard to work to recover in New Orleans.

In Houston, school employees were retained and in fact were guaranteed wages for the weeks they were out of school. In New Orleans more than 5000 teachers and other personnel were fired. In Houston workers in shuttered schools are being deployed elsewhere in order to be maintained. In New Orleans senior workers were not only not retained, but were also forced to face discrimination and barriers in reapplying. In Houston the emphasis has been retaining people and gaining stability. In New Orleans the leadership decision, influenced by federal policy and incentives, was to reorder and replace people. In Houston there is determination to recover. In New Orleans there was an effort to achieve something similar to ethnic cleansing by whitening the population. Houston will retain its people. New Orleans is still 80,000 people or more below its 2005 population.

Does it matter? Heck, yes!

Look at just one factor, like the mental health and resilience of children living through such disasters. Here’s a report from the Times:

Unlike an earthquake or a fire, flooding from a storm like Katrina or Harvey leaves many houses and buildings still physically standing but uninhabitable, simultaneously familiar and strange, like a loved one sinking into dementia. Surveys done in the seven years after Katrina found that the rate of diagnosable mental health problems in the New Orleans area jumped 9 percent – a sharper spike than after other natural disasters – and the effects did not discriminate much by race or income.”

There are impacts to public policy decisions. There are tragic outcomes to ideological and governmental initiatives that use entire cities and populations as test tubes and Guinea pigs for disastrous experiments. And, everybody pays, both the intended victims and the bystanders.

Good work, Houston. Another lesson from Katrina learned!

***

Please enjoy Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black.

Thanks to KABF.

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Chincha Still Trying to Come Back from 2007 Earthquake with Little Help

barrios and squatters village built by Chincha citizens after 2007 earthquake

Lima   We drove 200 kilometers from Lima to visit the newest local group in ACORN Peru, Chincha, by the Pacific Ocean south of Lima, a straight shot on the Pan American highway.  This was a California climate, except drier perhaps with sand dune mountains along the way.  Grapes grow here and wine and Pisco makers abound.  A look at Wikipedia says there are 177,000 people who live here, but…

Only some of this is true anymore.  ACORN Peru’s head organizer, Orfa Camacho, estimates the population may only be 20,000 now since the 2007 earthquake devastated so much of this town, that too many have forgotten.  We spent most of our time going through the newly built barrios that had sprung up by the hardest hit areas in the last 5 years.  These were patchwork enterprises of thatch, plywood, and whatever.  There were signs everywhere of people trying to grow banana plants, trees, and flowers.

The committee told of a government program that was supposed to help in the rebuilding called Mi Techo Propio or My Own Roof.  Problem was that to access the program you had to put down 1000 soles or $400 roughly.  You also had to pay 20% interest and have a “formal” job which almost no one has anymore.   Worthless.

We were standing in the community center or what was supposed to be the community center some day.  The money had come from Venezuela, but someone messed up somehow and it was unfinished.

We heard about the issues of water where people were paying a fixed rate and could access water for only an hour or two per day and as more people came on there was less water.

There were industrial pig and chicken growing operations operating “informally” right in the barrio.  People would complain.  They would get a pig.

Most of the women were single mothers running households, but most of the governing councils making the priorities were all men.

Two story houses had been financed by Spain behind the unfinished plaza and the unfinished community center, but it was unclear if water connections had been provided.

ACORN Peru will have their work cut out for them here.

houses built by Spain without water connections

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