Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Rebuild the Lives of the Big Easy’s Helpless

Meet Pamela Lichele-Lewis. She is a Navy veteran who served her country in Operation Desert Storm. Pamela lived in the greater New Orleans area and worked as a logistical engineer on naval airplanes before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

Katrina’s severe winds removed the entire roof of Pamela’s home, and the subsequent and excessive rain unearthed the foundation of her apartment complex, making it uninhabitable.

Twenty months later, the storm’s aftermath has forced her into homelessness and unemployment.

She spends her nights sleeping on the backseat of her two-door Ford Explorer. She has one blanket and one pillow. And that’s all. Everything she owns rests in the trunk of her truck.

An inability to secure a consistent source of income hinders her dream of leasing a new apartment. While newly minted prepaid gasoline gift cards that she received from a relief agency will heat her truck during the colder nights, Pamela remains unemployed and without a place to call home. She is confined to the solitude of her insulated automobile.

Who is responsible for helping Pamela in her time of need and unrest?

This was the challenge I confronted when Pamela reached out to me this past Monday. Imagine speaking to Pamela in her current condition. She has pursued every feasible avenue of assistance, but government organs at every level have yet to respond to her plight adequately – and the plight of thousands more like her.

After I learned more about her unfortunate circumstances, it became evident to me that she had sought help from every corner of America. Her voice was one of desperation, but strikingly clear. Somehow, Pamela’s plight rattled me, especially since FEMA has sat on her case like a stagnant swamp since February 2006.

Ostensibly, Pamela’s situation epitomizes that of thousands more displaced throughout the country.

What entities are responsible for rebuilding the roughly 300,000 homes destroyed by Katrina? Who should be called to remove the 118 million cubic yards of debris spread throughout the Gulf? Which industries will employ the 70,000 unemployed Katrina victims?

The federal government knows perfectly well that more must be done. And yet given these abject and stark realities, it remains difficult to understand why the U.S. government still fails to adequately provide the basic necessities for the folks displaced by the flood.

The federal government’s recovery effort continues to be abysmal. It too closely resembles the failures in the immediate wake of Katrina’s aftermath. Inept leadership at all levels of government is disheartening, especially as those government bodies promulgate the current sub-par level of recovery assistance. The current deficit of effective leadership tasked with improving the plight of Katrina’s victims is troublesome.

But despite our government’s failures, I believe that rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf and aiding the displaced individuals there is perhaps the most realistic goal in the history of America’s constitutional promise to “establish justice.” All sectors of private industry and philanthropy must coordinate the Herculean effort to restore infrastructure and establish justice.

The victims of Katrina are ready to rebuild. But this process demands unprecedented civic participation, innovative thinking and transformative ideas. Join the movement for rebirth and renewal. Ending Pamela’s plight is our collective responsibility. Let’s do something about it.

Happy Johnson is a senior in the College and the founder and chief executive officer of Blanket New Orleans, Inc.

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