500+ and Counting on Home Clean-out!

ACORN Community Organizing Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

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