Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Doubling down on stupid

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I got an up close look at the affected area courtesy of six months at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The damage was incredible not for its severity, but its moderate impact on such a huge area.

All of the hotels in the area were filled with evacuees being put up by FEMA, which turned out to be a problem when FEMA told the evacuees there was no more money for hotels.
''We've bent over backward to reach out. We've gone door to door to all of the 25,000 hotel rooms no fewer than six times. And there are individuals who have refused to come to the door, refused to answer. There are people who have run when they saw us coming; those are the ones that are now moving on," Kinerney said.
That was 6 months after the hurricane.

The solution was portable housing, or trailers to house the evacuees while the area was being rebuilt. But that also turned out to be a problem when it came time last month for the evacuees to leave the trailers.
Mobile home and trailer dwellers like Rigney were given several extensions to finish rebuilding homes or find more permanent places to stay. Those who stayed on or past May 1 were given notices to vacate. And it appears the deadline is going to stick after FEMA told residents they would ask the U.S. Department of Justice to help get them out of the units that have been the only stable homes for many people since hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005.
With a new hurricane season officially beginning Monday, an estimated 3,400 households affected by those storms remain in trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi — far fewer than the roughly 20,000 in the two states a year ago.
That was last month. 3 1/2 years after Katrina, there are 3400 families still living at government expense in portable trailers. They wont leave, and the DOJ has to forcibly evict them.

So what is FEMA's answer to this problem? Double down on a dumb idea.

FEMA announced a plan today to forgo trailers and use empty foreclosed homes to house storm evacuees in the event of a major hurricane in Florida.
Officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it is an effort to find some benefit in the foreclosure crisis and keep people close to their homes and communities instead of scattering them around the country, which happened when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other parts of coastal Louisiana and Mississippi almost four years ago. Thousands of victims who lost their homes in the storm moved to Houston, Atlanta and other cities, and many never returned.

Never returned to their homes because thousands are still living in FEMA trailers, refusing to leave. Now imagine the legal and moral mess as well as the PR opportunity for ACORN if the US government had to forcibly evict hurricane evacuees from foreclosed homes. ACORN already has a history of ignoring the law when it comes to foreclosed homes.

The US government has no legal responsibility to house, feed, and care for individuals after a natural disaster. There is a moral responsibility to impose stability and order, and to prevent loss of life. But individuals have a responsibility to take care of themselves to the limits of their ability. If they can't, or they need some help, that is what we have organizations like the Red Cross for. If the disaster is so massive that the government needs to be involved, then it needs to provide the lowest level of shelter it can. Foreclosed houses? Trailers? Nope, they need to set up tents and serve MRE's. If you give people a comfortable house and a free gourmet dinner, you are also giving them no incentive to leave.

Ironically, after my time in Camp Shelby, we spent 9 months in tents in Iraq. Good enough for the US military should be good enough for a natural disaster.

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