Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Houstonian's perspective on Katrina's aftermath

OK, lots of things to post about.

First the aftermath of Katrina. I spent yesterday at a local church trying to do something to help these poor people. There were probably 100 volunteers, and tons of goods were donated. The goal was to feed 1000 people with a barbecue and provide clothing, water, food, bathroom kits, etc.

The goal was admirable, but I had serious doubts about the expectations. The problem was that the plan required the refugees to find out about the event and get themselves there. In the end, the only about 40 to 50 people showed up, and these people, though hurting, were not the really desperate people that you see at the Astrodome. This scene was played out all over Houston yesterday.

There is a tremendous desire of people here in Houston to help and a tremendous feeling of empathy for our neighbors from Louisiana. The problem is trying to match up the bounty of Houston and the desire to help with the people who need it. Those people had to somehow know where to go and had to have transportation to get there. Most of the people who showed up to the church where I was drove there in their own cars and were staying in local motels. Of course, they had no homes to return to and had lost everything, but they could at least afford a hotel room for several days.

Regardless of the lack of success, it was cathartic for me personally to try to help and to talk to some of the people who did experience this. I have to admit that I was highly suspicious of the reports of extreme lawlessness and danger from violent individuals and groups. However, the people who showed up confirmed that their own experiences involved a struggle to survive both the elements and the other people who wanted to do them harm. Several of the people were very fragile emotionally, and could hardly talk about their experiences without breaking down. They said it was worse than reported on TV, at least for them individually. One poor woman, through tears, described old ladies up to their necks in water pleading for help.

The problem now is trying to sustain the effort. These people will need help for months at the least. Humans tend to be able to put out tremendous efforts over short time spans, but over the long term people get burned out. I must admit that our family has talked about taking in refugees to house them. My problem is that I am not sure I am willing at this point to commit to something where we would be the primary support for another family on an open-ended basis. That is a tough commitment to make to complete strangers.