So we did a part of the lower 9th last week. We’re in between neighborhoods and we’re scoping out our next canvass. That’s how we do it; pick a whole neighborhood and search every closet, every room, every attic, every house. It’s a formula and it works. Funny thing is that it has taken us almost a year to cross that industrial canal. We know we have squatters there, we just don’t know how many.
The Lower 9th holds a strong and unusual pain in the heart of every New Orleanian. In a lot of ways it’s still the scene of the crime, circled with yellow police tape, blood on the ground. It is in many ways symbolic about everything that represents Post-Katrina New Orleans; absolute poverty, government failure, an out-pouring of international aid and attention, personal abandonment and pockets of hope in reconstruction. Some New Orleanians won’t cross that canal for just that reason. It hurts too much. It means too much. The swampy ground is still saturated from the tragedy of Katrina. The body hasn’t been removed and the coroner hasn’t cleared the scene.
We have a co-worker who did Katrina down there. She lost everything, spent untold nights on a roof, pulled out by boats, superdome, exile, etc. I can imagine her asking why the help is taking so long while sitting on her roof, water lapping at the gutters. When it was time to come back to rebuild our city she never hesitated. She moved back to the Lower 9th as soon as she could. Now, I can’t begin to understand her motives, question her desire or even comprehend her absolute resolve. It makes no sense to me, but really, it doesn’t have to. It’s her home. It’s her neighborhood and she has every right to fight for her own little pocket of New Orleans, her own little pocket of the world. New Orleans has a kind of siege mentality in some hoods. Everyday is around bout 9 and you’re up on the ropes trying to get your home back to pre-Katrina, to get your neighborhood back to August 28, 2005. Welcome to the Lower 9th.
So, tucked back in the Lower 9th is an abandoned school. It’s gutted to the studs, the roof leaks throughout, completing the thoroughness of Katrina’s destruction. The smell of moldy, termite infested rafters mingles with fresh breezes from the Mississippi less than 100 yards away. You have to climb a rusted emergency escape to enter through an open window to get in. Don’t use the door; the floor caved in what appears to be years ago. Go past the discarded copy machine, ignoring the pigeon droppings and rat feces, and look to your right. There is a table, a chair and most importantly, a bedroll.