Sunday, March 05, 2006

Newsweek on post-Katrina Houston

Their profile:
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?...

13 Comments:

At 8:14 AM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

The problem isn't president Bush; it's the failure of anyone in our Congressional delegation to propose legislation to support the added services. Mayor White has simply complained that the federal government isn't paying the bill, using FEMA as a scapegoat when he knows darn well that there isn't any legislative authorization to pay for city operating expenses under the Stafford Act. White needs to lobby Congress through our delegation for specific legislation (or at least a rider to some other piece of legislation) to support Houston's services.

But White probably won't do that. More likely, he'll continue to pass the buck, acting as if FEMA can pay for things it can't, and act as if the problems we face are entirely new and unexpected (the police shortage was a problem from the moment White entered office, and only after Katrina did he bother dealing with it directly).

Mayor Nagin has been criticized for doing the exact same thing -- having asking FEMA as his sole "plan" for paying for services. If Nagin can't make headway doing this, why should Houston fare any better? We need to stop expecting that the federal government will pay without new legislation, and make plans for what to do if no federal aid is forthcoming. Any other strategy is politics as usual.

 
At 11:38 AM, March 06, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

Interesting that you criticize the ONE person who seemed to do more in this crisis than anyone else, and did it quickly and on the fly, but let Bush completely off the hook for his absolute lack of leadership. Bush may not be completely at fault, and White may not be perfect, but if you applied the same standards of leadership to both, White would do quite well.

This event showed ALL levels of government to be incompetent and unprepared, but I'll take our city and county guys over all the others every day. White and Eckels had no choice but to help desparate citizens in need. It was easily forseeable that the stress of the event on evacuees and locals alike would lead to clashes and overloading of services, but that does not equate to an excuse to do nothing. Even if the federal government shirks its responsibilty, White and Eckels did the right thing, and I applaud them for it.

BTW - White is passing the buck? He's the only one that DIDN'T.

 
At 12:32 PM, March 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

- Interesting that you criticize the ONE person who seemed to do more in this crisis than anyone else, and did it quickly and on the fly, but let Bush completely off the hook for his absolute lack of leadership. -

but that's par for Owen

 
At 1:47 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

redscare,

First of all, my response was very detailed -- not made "quickly and on the fly." I didn't just state the conclusion that White is handling this improperly; I explained how. Compare this with your comment that Bush displayed an "absolute lack of leadership." THAT'S "on the fly," and completely conclusory.

Secondly, comment was not a "Bush vs. White" post regarding the overall response to Katrina. It was addressing White's argument that FEMA should fit the bill for Houston city operating expenses related to Katrina, which is legally untenable.

This isn't Bush's problem -- if Houston wants reimbursement, it should seek Congressional authorization for such payment. The best way to do that is to lobby through our Congressmen. I don't see why Bush should be expected to take the lead when it comes to Houston's finances. That's White's job.

So, White IS trying to pass the buck regarding city finances related to Katrina, and he's doing so in a way that will not ensure repayment from the feds. He deserves criticism for that REGARDLESS of what you think of his response to Katrina -- a separate issue.

Now, if you want to address that argument, by all means do so. If not, I don't see the relevance of your response.

 
At 3:07 PM, March 06, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

Owen, my 'on the fly' remark was a description of Mayor White's handling of the emergency, not your response.

Not sure what your gripe is about federal reimbursement. FEMA has agreed to pay for the housing vouchers as well as reimburse $6.5 million for overtime. They previously promised to pay for the emergency shelter costs. Now, White is trying to help HISD and others get education costs reimbursed...and he doesn't even control the school budgets!

As for my Bush remarks, you are right, they are conclusory. It is a conclusion shared by roughly 70% of the population. Feel free to point out why you think my conclusion is unsupported by facts.

 
At 3:47 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

>>Not sure what your gripe is about federal reimbursement. FEMA has agreed to pay for the housing vouchers as well as reimburse $6.5 million for overtime. They previously promised to pay for the emergency shelter costs.<<

Those are actually emergency costs; not city operating expenses. The strain on police related to taking in a larger population, and the additional students placed in HISD, is simply NOT COVERED by the Stafford Act. Once the immediate emergency expenses end, so does FEMA reimbursement. It's already happened in N.O., and it's long since passed in Houston.

>>Now, White is trying to help HISD and others get education costs reimbursed...and he doesn't even control the school budgets!<<

He's advocating reimbrursement for something not authorized by the Stafford Act. That's pretty much useless.

>>As for my Bush remarks, you are right, they are conclusory. It is a conclusion shared by roughly 70% of the population. Feel free to point out why you think my conclusion is unsupported by facts.<<

It's not my job to refute your position; it's your job to support it. If you don't want to prove your points, it might be best not to make them.

 
At 4:06 PM, March 06, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

Some things are self evident. I do not feel the need to state the obvious. Bush's mishandling of Katrina has been capably covered by all of the news media, including Fox News, for the past 6 months.

If you choose to think otherwise, that's your choice. I will not waste my time repeating what so many others have so ably reported.

 
At 4:23 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Andrew said...

Again, Houston is now stuck with a huge problem!
It is up to Mayor White and Gov Perry to really make a fuss on every cable news network to push Congress to pay for every bill Houston has incurred while taking care of Katrina victims.

As far as Houston keeping the poor, uneducated and chronically unemployed well I still say put them back on the bus and return them to New Orleans.

If the citizens want to continue receiving Govt assistance then they have to return to their state of residence.

It's not about being ugly or mean but Houston already had it fair share of poor, uneducated and chronically unemployed. We could barely provide for our own citizens let alone take care of an additional 150,000.

 
At 4:27 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

redscare,

The idea that the Katrina response went badly has been reported -- the idea that it was somehow BUSH'S mishandling is far from self-evident. It's no more self-evident that the police shortage all being Mayor White's fault just because it hit under his watch (actually, former Mayor Brown bears most of the blame for that).

 
At 5:08 PM, March 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

- The idea that the Katrina response went badly has been reported -- the idea that it was somehow BUSH'S mishandling is far from self-evident. -

Basically every newspaper and news program recently reported "Officials predicted catastrophe, and Bush asked no questions" with regards to the briefing he received just before Katrina hit New Orleans. All Bush did was put on a confident tone that everything was under control, then he returned to his video games and dilly-dallying back at the ranch. He clearly paid no attention to those who said that the New Orleans levees faced grave danger, then was quoted after the fact as saying noone could have guessed that the levees would have been breached. What a complete disengaged idiot, no?

 
At 5:46 PM, March 06, 2006, Anonymous nmainguy said...

owen's attempt at absolving Bush from the equation is weak at best and intellectually bankrupt at most. Had this hurricane reaked havoc on only Texas cities, then his argument may have some footing.
It happened in another state. Bush is the President of the United States-not just one or two states. WE took these people in because it was the right thing to do. Instead of passing the buck, we spent what we had-and didn't have- generously and only ask for a small reimbursment as far as government supplied services go.
If you want to go further, I and thousands of others could have asked for reimbursement for the housing of evacuees, meals, baby formula, perscription drugs, clothes, etc that many of us offered freely.
By the way, the Stafford Act feeds nor houses anyone. Yes it may be law, but I find a little civil disobedience in order on this one.
You and Mr. Bush have clearly overlooked that kind of compassion. I guess it doesn't fit your "conservative compassion" model.
In closing, this was a NATIONAL disaster that required NATIONAL leadership. Bush choose to once again run from the problem; ie. a fund-raiser in California.
He CHOOSE to remain uninvolved. The recent video tapes bear this out. Ask no questions and you won't be held to the standard of a response.

 
At 11:15 PM, March 06, 2006, Anonymous Brian S. said...

Pointing fingers after a disaster is like kids playing "kill the man with the ball". The whole reason a disaster occurs is because NOBODY saw it coming. Any one who did was considered a half-baked loon. If George Bush, the governor, or Ray Nagin had gotten on TV and asked for $10 Billion in funding to fix New Orleans levies six months before Katrina, you would have had 535 congressmen do absolutely nothing. On Sept. 10th you would have been laughed at for claiming someone would knock down skyscrapers in New York. No one took Tsunamis seriously until it occured. No one took Mt. St. Helen's seriously until it occurred. We don't take it seriously because 99% of the time you will look like Geraldo Rivera in front of Al Capone's "Secret Vault" live on TV.

 
At 3:44 AM, March 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is complete BS. Disasters do not happen because no one knew it was coming - they happen because people don't PLAN. There is a huge difference! Kay Bailey Hutchinson was on 60 Minutes in the 1990s talking about aircraft and how easily terrorism could come through that door. I knew who Osama bin Laden was before 9-11 - hadn't you heard of the Cole incident? We got caught with our pants down.

People have known for a LONG time that something like this was headed for the Gulf Coast, and that NOLA specifically would not be able to handle it if it were higher than a level 3. This includes funding requested by the Army Corps of Engineers that the Bush administration and government turned down; it also includes money that local and regional officials did not plow back into programs that would bolster the region's protection.

This has nothing to do with political parties. Nagin made mistakes too. However, it is Bush who was most disingenuous about being prepared, as that video bore out.

Meanwhile you might read a paper for a change: http://www.factcheck.org/article344.html

 

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