At the end of this month, we will mark the fourth anniversary of one of the most devastating storms in U.S. history: Hurricane Katrina. And while the upcoming anniversary is time to celebrate how much we’ve accomplished in the last four years, it’s also a great time to raise awareness that the work in New Orleans is far from done.
According to the latest data, close to 80 percent of the city is back overall. But in the poorest neighborhoods, the numbers are much lower. In the Lower 9th Ward, only 19 percent of the residents have come home. The reasons? Not enough affordable houses and apartments. And basic services are still not available. Only one of three schools has reopened. Neither of the two hospitals that provided health care in the Lower 9th Ward are back in business. And there still is no grocery store in the neighborhood.
When actor Brad Pitt first toured the Lower 9th Ward after Katrina, he was shocked by the devastation he saw — and he set out to start a nonprofit called Make It Right. Make it Right is building 150 new, affordable homes using core green building principles in the Lower 9th Ward. The homes they’re building incorporate the more environmentally friendly design practices while also being engineered to help them withstand another natural disaster.
I saw the devastation first-hand when I toured New Orleans in 2007. A friend and I took a day out of our vacation to help build a home in the Upper 9th Ward — in a neighborhood where only two houses on the block were occupied, and one family was living in a trailer parked on what used to be their front lawn. It was an unforgettable experience.
It was incredible to me to see the differences between the tourist areas–where you couldn’t even tell there was a hurricane a couple of years ago–and the poor neighborhoods, where large families with small children were living in structures that lacked doors, windows and interior walls. One particular woman we were working with at the house was truly amazing–she was in her mid-20s, a single mom of three kids, and she worked graveyard shifts at two jobs in halfway houses for at-risk youth. After working all night, she came to volunteer until 3 p.m. at the worksite, then picked up her kids from school, fixed them dinner and slept for a few hours before going back to work. I couldn’t imagine how she did it — and maintained such an exceptional attitude.
The people of New Orleans still need our attention. Brad Pitt is building homes — and you can help by raising awareness about the situation in the Lower 9th Ward this Katrina anniversary! Sign the pledge that you won’t forget the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Photo courtesy Make It Right.