Katrina: Moving the country forward

While I suspect most people will be talking about the disaster and the problems with government response for some time, I am hopeful that we can start to move forward as a country with a focus on solutions instead of past problems. Yes we need to learn from the past, but I hope people dont dwell on it for too long.

On the top of my mind for the past week has been one overriding thought: “If we can relocate, educate and house hundreds of thousands of people displaced by a natural disaster, why can’t we solve our nations homeless problem?” Given the tremendous effort to design and deploy systems to assist those whose homes were destroyed by Katrina, it won’t take that much more to have these programs address the needs of all the nation’s homeless who want the help. The reasoning for this is analagous to the process of getting a car or appliance repaired/serviced – if the extra work will cost less in the long run since we already have it ‘opened’ up, let’s spend the 30% more today rather than doubling the cost if we were to do it tomorrow.

Thankfully, this has not escaped the eyes of other leaders in the country. CNN paraphrased Condoleeza Rice today:

Rice also said she believes the Hurricane Katrina disaster provides an opportunity for Americans to launch a comprehensive attack on poverty.

According to a study published by the National Coalition for the Homeless in 2002 some 2.3-3.5 Million people experience homelessness in an average year, with just under 40% of those affected being children.

I believe this is an unprecendented opportunity for this problem to be solved. Granted, like the many people in NOLA who refuse to leave, many homeless will refuse offers of assistance, but the majority of people can be helped and that is where we should focus our attention. The emphasis of these programs in the short term should be relief/comfort/medical care/shelter, while moving people through the program with a mid-long term focus on empowering individuals to provide for themselves (ie educational basics like 3 R’s, computer skills and vocational specific training).

Unfortunately a generation of Americans have been taught to put their hands out awaiting a government payday rather than taking responsibility for their own well being. As someone who grew up in a household financed by my mother’s $350-450 monthly Social Security check and my grandparents Pension and Social Security, I do personally understand much of what is going on – especially in regards to knowing that some people (the disabled in particular, but also those affected by real hardship and adversity) do require governmental support. So I am not saying we eradicate such programs, but rather that they be restructured to incent all able people to claim their personal power rather than increase reliance on the charity of the government and non-profits.

One very radical idea might be to rebuild some of those smaller towns that were destroyed by the Hurricane into communities that would be primarily focused on short term housing, education, mental/physical health, job skills, relocation and job placement facilities. Though I dont mean to sound insensitive, it would seem that the old “Not In My Backyard” problem would be avoided finally and perhaps a major project such as this might be pushed through.

While I am praying for the people harmed by this terrible disaster, I am also praying for all those in need of a a helping hand to lift themselves up from teh streets and into a simpler more happy life.

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