500+ and Counting on Home Clean-out!

New Orleans      Today was another big day. More than 100 volunteers were part of the ACORN Services clean-up crews working in the 70117 zip code of the 9th Ward of New Orleans, just west of the Industrial Canal. Today’s full court press might mean 10-15 houses get done before the fall of the sun.

In less than six weeks the ACORN Clean-out and Demonstration Project has now finished more than 520 houses before today. We had originally said we would do 1000 before the end of March. We now have 1400 families who have already signed waivers giving permission and requesting the clean-outs. Every day there is a line of people in the hallway outside my office trying to see what it takes to get their place cleaned out.

It is a sad line, but I leave the door open. There is laughing. There are reunions as people see neighbors and find out where they are staying, what they are doing, and when they hope to be back. A fellow I hadn’t seen for 10 years, Ray Centanni, a former official of the Longshoreman’s local of checkers and clerks, now retired, stuck his head in my office. He had retired with a bad back. He was now living with his sister in Kenner. His house had been in Gentilly, a block and a half from the London Avenue canal and its breech. The day before a woman and her grown son, my age, were in the hall when I walked out. Her place had been in Hollygrove uptown. All of a sudden she saw Steve Bradberry, the New Orleans head organizer, and lit up — she had been a long-time ACORN member and started talking about an issue they had won in the neighborhood, ironically about a contractor dumping in the area that is now one big dumping ground for lots of contractors. She said she Steve’s camera on her dresser, but “Katrina got it!”

At $2500 per house we have been able to do this at cut rate prices, and have tried to do the job for free, but at close to a million dollars already spent, we are going to have to somehow slow the motor down. We also no longer see a way to stop at 1000. There seems to be no end to this job. More and more people walk on down the hall to the back and deal with Scott Hagy and his crews about what it would take to rebuild after the clean-out and what they can scrape together. Maybe we can finance some of this?

Raising money to save families and houses has been hard, but worth every penny. For all of the talk as developers build castles in the sky with someone else’s money, family after family is fighting the guerrilla war to save their communities house by house.

We have to find a way to support saving families and their houses. Somehow?

January 28, 2006


FEMA Trailers Arrive

New Orleans      Yesterday was a big day for a small reason here on Elysian Fields at the ACORN office. Five months after the storm, finally two FEMA trailers ordered for our staff arrived.

They were slightly different, but both were essentially big, white boxes on wheels. One had a couple of windows more than the other. Each looked like they would sleep between 4 and 6 depending on how scrunchy-up one organized the space. The insides were nicer than the vanilla exteriors. Nice looking wooden cabinets. Microwaves. Big refrigerators. All the comforts of the home that you no longer have.

The crew that set them down was a story themselves. They were being paid $10.00 per day on the promise that after 4 months they would get their big payday. They ferried the trailers in from a lot in Jefferson Parish. They were also paid to set them. Run wires from the fuse box and lay pvc pipe to plumb them to the sewer connection on the ACORN annex. Another guy had the job of building small stairways into the side doors of the trailers. Each pick-up, one from Atlanta and the other from Texas with crews from those cities, Shreveport, and elsewhere, had a small generator to run the power tools right on to the job site. These were essentially traveling construction sharecroppers.

The newspaper has been all bent out of shape. First, they complained about how few trailers were in New Orleans, which is a true point. They didn’t know what to do with the dispute that folks had in many districts about getting locations — some of the white council people — Jackie Clarkson and Jay Batt — from the two formerly whiter districts, resisted the trailers and wanted to dictate their placement. Governor Blanco had to come down to make the peace finally. Now, as the trailers arrive the paper complains about the estimated cost over an 18 month period, which could be past $60,000 for trailer. The point is made that one could rebuild a lot of houses for the cost of a trailer, but in many ways that’s apples and oranges. It’s an equity problem again, not just a math thing. The big whoops of New Orleans keep stumbling on the horns of that dilemma.

We have crews of workers desperate for housing on our clean-out and demonstration program. There are still New Orleans ACORN organizers, Franzella Johnson, the great Lynette, Ms. Quinn, and others who can not come back to work, because they no longer have housing. This could finally make it possible for them to staff up and get back into full fighting shape.

We will put these two FEMA trailers with the Airstreams and have our own small village here helping rebuild the city.

We were all ecstatic!

January 28, 2006