Newsweek on post-Katrina Houston
Katrina's Latest Damage
Crime is up. Schools are overcrowded. Hospitals are jammed. Houston welcomed a flood of hurricane evacuees with open arms. But now the city is suffering from a case of 'compassion fatigue.'
In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, Houston earned a loving moniker among many of the evacuees who sought refuge there: the Big Heart. This, after all, was the city that housed, fed and mended more than 150,000 survivors in a herculean effort that won national acclaim. Houston officials mounted what is believed to be the biggest shelter operation in the country's history, including MASH-like megaclinics that took on problems ranging from emergency care to eyeglass prescriptions. Then, just as quickly, officials disbanded those facilities to usher evacuees into more-permanent housing, offering them generous vouchers that covered rent and utilities for a year. "No other city really provided the resources and assistance Houston has," says Angelo Edwards, vice chair of the ACORN Katrina Survivors Association. "If not for Mayor [Bill] White and his administration, a lot of us would've been lost."
But six months after the evacuees arrived, the city's heart seems to be hardening.
But perhaps no city has been as convulsed as Houston, which took in the greatest number of survivors. As some see it, the city is suffering from "compassion fatigue." Public services are overwhelmed, city finances are strained and violent crime is on the rise. When city leaders in New Orleans made comments two weeks ago suggesting that they wanted only hardworking evacuees to return, some Houston city-council members erupted in protest—fearing that politicians in the Big Easy were trying to stick Houston with their undesirables. "We extended an open hand to all kinds of people," says Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. "If they want to return home, it's their right." And if they want to stay, she adds, they "need to stand up, get on their feet and get jobs."
From there it goes on into more depth on crime, education, and health care impacts, concluding with:
All of which leaves Houston Mayor Bill White scrambling to keep the city's finances afloat. He's taken heat from political opponents who carp that he should have sought greater assurances of federal support before welcoming evacuees so magnanimously. "This is going to create turmoil for many years to come," says Steve Radack of the Harris County Commission. But White responds that the city couldn't exactly shut its doors to desperate, dislocated people. Last month he announced that FEMA had agreed to reimburse the city for its housing-voucher program—expected to cost $300 million to $400 million—and to pay $6.5 million in police overtime costs to boost patrolling. And he continues to campaign for additional education and public-safety funds. Six months after Katrina, he says, "there is still an emergency." The city that so generously opened its heart could now use a little generosity itself.
I may be a bit insulated, but I think the article makes it sound like things are more desperate and worse than they really are. It's clearly a strain, but they give the impression we're some sort of massive, lawless refugee camp. That said, the concluding plea is a nice one, and let's hope the Feds hold up their end of the deal. Maybe a certain prominent local citizen and ex-president can give his son a call and explain the situation from a first-hand perspective?...