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29 Aug, 2010 04:49

Five years after Katrina, New Orleans still rebuilding

Five years after Hurricane Katrina areas of New Orleans, such as the French Quarter, are almost back to normal. Other sections of the city, however, are far from rebuilt.

Full streets in the Lower Ninth Ward are still abandoned, but in other places the sounds of reconstruction can be heard.

Despite all the abandoned homes, 19,000 people in New Orleans are still homeless. The city has one of the highest percentages of homelessness in the country. While many of the homeless in the city lost everything during the storm, others came to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina looking for work.

"We heard about Katrina and all the other stuff that was going on so we thought maybe we could come down here and get jobs pretty easy and there would be work that would be available, but there wasn't," said Loretta Smith, a New Orleans resident who found herself homeless shortly after moving to the city a few years ago.

In the aftermath of the storm, the city received federal aid to pull the homeless off the streets by paying for their housing for three months. The problem for many of these people, however, was that without a job they couldn't afford to retain the housing. After the three months was up, many ended up back on the streets.

Loretta Smith is now the executive chef of the New Orleans Mission, an organization that attempts to help the city's homeless. She said that the city doesn't do enough to help its residents get back on their feet.

"They're forgetting that minor little piece of it that's in the middle from homelessness to house: you better find a job somewhere in there," she said.

Many of New Orleans' homeless have relatives in other cities across the United States, but they refuse to give up living in the city they love – even if they no longer have a home there.

"All I wanted to do was come home and my son is like, 'Mom, that's the worst thing you can do. There's nothing down there and there's no family there'…It's what I know, it's home you know, it sounds stupid," said Carol Self, a New Orleans resident who lost everything in the storm. 

"It gets harder and harder every day," said one resident, "you just see your dreams slipping away."

Jordan Flaherty, the author of "Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six” said he is most concerned for those in New Orleans who have been ignored and those who are still displaced throughout the US.

There has been so many programs that were suppose to help people like the federal program administered by the State, the Louisiana Road Home Program, that in fact did not help poor folks, they helped, in fact it was found by a judge this week to be racially discretionary; it helped white homeowners more than black homeowners,” said Flaherty.

Many of the stories about those who have been forgotten or left behind by the recovery have not been told, argued Flaherty.

Flaherty argued that the disaster and recovery has been a tale of racism, and that the impact has overwhelmingly impacted minority communities.

People talk as if this is a race neutral disaster that affected everyone equally, but if you look at the facts on the ground this is racism in practice,” said Flaherty.