Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Statute of Limitations on Compassion: Two Years

Michelle Malkin linked today to an article in the Houston Chronicle about the disastrous situation that Katrina survivors who were uprooted from their destroyed neighborhoods and moved to Houston are facing in that city, two years after the hurricane. The former New Orleans residents, most of them either poor, elderly, or disabled, or some combination of these, have been dealing with a series of changing rules and requirements for assistance; arbitrary, bureaucratic decision-making; and confusion and inefficiency caused by the folding of the FEMA program into the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development:

On a rainy afternoon two days before Thanksgiving, Dawn Haynes was driving when she spotted the family of five sitting on the steps of Gospel Baptist Church.

Three adults and two children were huddled under an awning, clutching luggage and looking lost. Mystified, she stopped her car. They told her they were former New Orleanians and that the family had been evicted from its northwest Houston apartment after losing federal housing assistance. Haynes was shocked.

''I haven't thought about the people from Hurricane Katrina being homeless before, until I came across this family," said Haynes, who lives in Acres Homes and has helped place Brenda Hickman and her family in various motels.

This is not rare. More than two years after Hurricane Katrina transplanted thousands of New Orleanians into Houston, the lives of the most vulnerable — the unemployed and working poor — are starting to unravel. Once kept afloat on federal rental assistance, these families are losing their benefits and are ending up on Houston's streets, activists and social workers say. The families are going from cheap motel to cheap motel or doubling up in other people's homes, sleeping in armchairs or on floors. Those lucky to have transportation are living in their cars.

''We have gone from pillar to post," Hickman said. ''I can't see myself living on the streets." The 59-year-old was disqualified from rental assistance after she broke up with her husband who was designated as the head of the household — thus, the sole recipient for FEMA rental assistance.

In the last month, a second displacement of hundreds of people has become more pronounced as the process of transferring the FEMA program to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development got under way. The shift between the two agencies has not been seamless with many local landlords, who accepted FEMA money before, opting out of the program that will require tenants to start contributing to their rent payments March 1. So far, 48 landlords representing 68 properties have said no to the HUD program, said Spurgeon Robinson, the director of Harris County's Disaster Housing Assistance Program, or DHAP.

This has forced hundreds of households with no money to scramble to find security deposits and to move on again.

The majority of transplanted Katrina evacuees in Harris County, an estimated 100,000, are not on federal housing assistance and have moved on with their lives, but there is a small minority of people who still are struggling, community activists say.
The reasons why families have been landing on the streets are multiple, said Dave Dretcher, a director at Stay Connected, a program set up by Neighborhood Centers Inc. to help Katrina and Rita evacuees.

Some have been disqualified because their households have changed: Familial ties have been severed or down-and-out relatives have moved in.

"If mom and daughter were living together before the storm, they should be living together right after the storm," Dretcher said. "The way FEMA sets up a household was defined by the family situation before the storm — not after."

Many of these families are poor with senior citizens and the disabled on fixed incomes. Half can't find full-time jobs and get paid less than $15,000 a year, according to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. Also, county officials said 48 percent of their DHAP clients are unemployed.

Social workers and HUD housing inspectors also are finding families who have been living in cramped quarters. In one example, Priscilla Mercadel, her daughter and her seven grandchildren were packed in a one-bedroom apartment in north Houston after FEMA disqualified the daughter from rental assistance.

Of course, Michelle Malkin being who she is, she uses this story as an opportunity to express her sympathy -- for the residents of Houston who are bashing the Katrina survivors:
What’s most interesting is not so much the story, but the reaction to the story. The piece has garnered more than 700 comments so far, with heated debate over the limits of compassion.

Malkin then quotes a few of the comments -- including one that expresses shock at the callousness of most of the responders -- and then opens it to her readers, not one of whom has a kind word to say. In fact, most of them don't seem to have read the same article that I did. If they had, and possessed a reasonable level of intelligence and common sense, it would (or should) be clear why this relatively small number of Katrina survivors have been having so much trouble: the requirements for assistance are confusing, contradictory, often arbitrary, and subject to change without notice or proper communication. In many cases, people don't know what they are eligible for or entitled to. Many people have been placed in apartments that are completely inappropriate for their needs -- usually much too small -- which leads to a constant crisis mode in which aid recipients have to spend all their time trying to find other housing they can afford, fighting eviction, trying to keep their families together, and so on. Most of these people are poor and unskilled, and the job market is not exactly exploding with opportunities for them. And to add to all that, FEMA is in the process of transferring the entire hurricane assistance program to another government agency, which creates even more chaos and opportunities for exhibitions of incompetence.

However, reasonably intelligent, compassionate readers with common sense are not Michelle Malkin's demographic -- hence we see comments like these:

"So 2 years of free rent and they didn’t save a penny for housing? Ridiculous, but that’s what entitlement breeds."
"I prefer to be a firebuilder. Like we say in the team room, 'Build a man a fire, warm him for a night. Set a man on fire, warm him for life.' "
"It’s been two years. I’m sorry for what happened, but in that entire time none of these people considered getting jobs - even minimum wage jobs - and putting money away?

No. They wanted to latch on to the public teet and live off *our* tax dollars.

I bet if our apartment building burned to the ground right now, in two WEEKS time we’d be living someplace else, paying rent, and working to rebuild our lives. You know…being INDEPENDENT."
"two years free rent; and they didn’t think about how they were going to exist beyond this? yes, exactly entitlements do not cause an individual to strive beyond getting the next check or freebie. when will the government ever learn? or maybe they do want them to be in this dependent state forever?" [...]

They didn't have two years of free rent, moron.

No comments: