When outreach workers first met Grace Bailey, she couldn’t talk to them, but her vulnerabilities were clear. Grace had just had surgery to repair her face and jaw after a severe beating on the abandoned streets of an abandoned neighborhood. It was obvious to the workers that the surgery sites were infected – puss was oozing freely from her wounds. The antibiotics prescribed by the hospital cost $386 – obviously out of her reach. A hard worker, Grace never thought she would end up here.
Prior to Katrina and the waters that ravaged the city, Grace Bailey was strong and labored hard to make ends meet for herself and her family. In the years prior to Katrina, she worked in both a shrimp factory and in a candy factory. Katrina’s floodwaters ruined both factories and both companies relocated out of the city. Even the temp agency that Grace used to pick up odd jobs to supplement her income had been destroyed. It wasn’t long before Grace, beaten down by the destruction around her, found herself in this deplorable situation.
While the end of August marks the fifth anniversary for Katrina, it also marks the one-year anniversary of Grace’s move into her neat, bright apartment in a quiet little New Orleans neighborhood. She now receives consistent health care at a nonprofit clinic that assists with her medications. While still experiencing some residual pain from her injuries, Grace Bailey luxuriates in her ability to heal in her tidy apartment surrounded by a white picket fence.View Post
At 71 years-old, Mr. Hammond looks forward to his twilight years by indulging his gardening addiction. While most people his age are pushing around walkers or leaning on canes, Mr. Hammond can be found behind a tiller or maneuvering a weed whacker through his impressive garden. It’s an appropriate hobby for a man who’s self-sufficient, strong and independent. It’s also why he’s alive.
When the catastrophic failure of the Federal Levee System flooded New Orleans, Mr. Hammond did what thousands of his New Orleans neighbors did – he climbed into his attic. While the putrid water inched its way into the rafters and the oppressive summer heat suffocated the attic air, Mr. Hammond contemplated a solitary and tragic death. His days and nights were spent scrambling through a dark and acrid crawlspace warding off the swamp critters attempting to preserve their own lives. He could hear the Coast Guard helicopters picking neighbors off their roofs and delivering them to safety or at least a different kind of torment at The Superdome or The Convention Center. He knew they couldn’t see him. He knew they couldn’t help. He knew this might be how he died.
Instead of slinking into a wet corner and accepting a quiet water-logged grave, Mr. Hammond started to work. He harnessed his independence, cultivated through 35 years commercial truck driving, and started to pick. His bloodied and wrinkled hands chipped away through the wood, plaster, nails and wiring. Eventually, through scorching days and sleepless nights he created a hole large enough to pull his slender body through. The house he saved for his whole life – the house that represented thousands of miles of America’s highways and hours of sleepless overtime – was not going to be his coffin. A fellow New Orleanian heard his desperate cries and rescued him in a boat, thus beginning his real Katrina odyssey. He eventually made it to the Super Dome and then to Texas.
Earnest Hammond never debated whether he was coming back to New Orleans after Katrina. You don’t give your heart and soul to a city, raise your family in it, and build a modest but comfortable existence in it and abandon it when it gets a little wet. Instead, Mr. Hammond did what he always did; he went to work. He traded the solitary days and nights in an oppressive attic for the backbreaking solitude of gutting his water-logged possessions. When his home was cleared and still camping in his mildewed living room, he went searching for a loan. Quickly finding out that there are few banks willing to loan money to an old man with no credit history (Mr. Hammond always paid cash), the offers of assistance for a FEMA trailer were greatly appreciated.
FEMA was a tragic lifeline, eventually giving him a cramped trailer. The Louisiana Road Home was billed as a savior for the thousands of affected homeowners whose insurance was inadequate in supplying the necessary cash to rebuild. Mountains of paperwork, endless interviews and months and years of waiting eventually heralded a final decision: Denied. A bureaucratic enigma made Mr. Hammond ineligible for a Road Home Grant. His appeals were repeatedly denied and it appeared that if his house was going to be rebuilt, he would have to do it alone.
He knew he wouldn’t get a job driving trucks again because of his age. He knew he wouldn’t get a loan. He knew he had to do something, anything to get back home. Instead of throwing his hands in the air, he looked at the aluminum cans scattered on the streets of New Orleans. Mr. Hammond was going to rebuild his house by picking up one discarded beer can at a time. His plan was to trade aluminum for drywall. When staff from the Abandoned Building Project encountered Mr. Hammond, he had several thousand cans stashed in his gutted house. Outreach quickly linked Mr. Hammond with the Episcopal Rebuilding Initiative who used volunteers to rebuild this man’s little slice of New Orleans. There was never any debate whether Mr. Hammond would be back.View Post
He has been featured in major newspapers and his artwork hangs on permanent display in the Louisiana State Museum. Tommie Mabry’s stream of consciousness writings, written on the walls of a flooded public housing complex, captured the immediate confusion and terror of a city besieged by water.
As Hurricane Katrina bore down, Tommie held up in his aunt’s apartment in the B.W. Cooper Housing Project. Tommie, physically and mentally disabled himself, spent the last four years taking care of his adopted aunt. Tommie’s aunt allowed him a safe place in return for the completion of household chores. It was a symbiotic arrangement, one that demonstrated the invaluable role of family in preventing homelessness.
It appeared that New Orleans was spared epic destruction. Then the levees failed. Water soon engulfed the B.W. Cooper. After several days of waiting for assistance, he decided to push his wheel-chair-bound aunt through the water to the Super Dome then waded back to his apartment.
For months, Tommie documented his thoughts and activities on the walls of the apartment. These simple, but eloquent observations of an apocalyptic, flooded New Orleans captured the hearts of thousands. Historians extracted the walls to preserve his writings. Unfortunately during the preservation, Tommie was forgotten. The man who captured the struggle of New Orleans in felt-tip marker was forced from the unit; homeless again.
A year later, outreach discovered him on a freeze night in a two-room apartment in the basement of a flooded house. Finally, Tommie was on his way to housing and healthcare; outreach later learned that the frail man was a famous Katrina poet.
Today, Tommie has been housed for over two years and volunteers with outreach on freeze nights. He continues to write on his apartment walls.View Post
She had to get to the school. As Carrie pushed through chest-deep water, she knew that the second floor of the school would provide safety. Before she reached the school, she was knocked off her feet and hit by a heavy piece of debris, pummeling her in the lower back. She regained her footing and plunged ahead.
Carrie and a small band of neighbors were rescued by the National Guard. Once evacuated to Texas, medical personnel began the ongoing attempts to alleviate Carrie’s searing back pain.
When Carrie returned to New Orleans, she found that the house she rented was gone. A neighbor allowed her and her older brother to stay in their flooded home. Carrie, a forty-year veteran of the hospitality industry, was unable to work because of her back injury. The two siblings eked out a meager existence on the brother’s disability income and their weeks in the small flooded house stretched to months, then years.
Carrie and her brother gutted the house and covered the walls with plastic campaign signs. They cooked meals on a steel drum and laundry was washed on the porch and hung on the fence to dry. However no amount of tenacity could turn on the electricity or the decrepit plumbing. Leaks in the storm-damaged roof overwhelmed the cans, pots and pans strategically placed throughout the house to catch the New Orleans rain.
When her brother moved in with his girlfriend, Carrie continued to fight the rats, insects and severe weather conditions. The only time outreach workers ever witnessed Carrie letting down her guard was on an early-morning visit to tell her that she had been approved for housing. Carrie sobbed and sobbed – she was exhausted. She could finally give up fighting off the rats that invaded each night.
Today, Carrie is in a lovely little apartment with electricity, running water and a door that locks. She lives in a neighborhood where friends are nearby. She has gathered a few pieces of clean, functional furniture and has put her own touch on her apartment with recovered knick-knacks that truly reflect her hope and belief in the future.View Post