The October 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

The Aristocracy and the Disaster

In Katrina's Wake, Oakland Batters Homeless

A Perfect Storm of Racism

Katrina: Ongoing Human Disaster

FCNL Speaks Out on Katrina

Kerry's Kids: Health Care for Poor Children

Fresh Start Gives Kindness Awards

The Dying Gift of Sharon Ostman

A 500-Year-Old War on the Poor

37 Million Live in Poverty in US

Julia Vinograd: Poet Laureate of Berkeley Streets

Innovative Plans for Homeless Housing

Disabled Woman on a Long Road Back Home

Photographer's Eye for the Dignity of People

Poor Leonard On Prejudice

The Flower Lady

October Poetry of the Streets


September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Katrina: The Ongoing Human Disaster

by Janny Castillo

In Oakland, members of ACORN joined in protests to call for justice and compassion for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Janny Castillo photo

In the aftermath of Katrina, as the country's leaders only talked about rescue and began to blame each other, we, the people, responded. If the government failed, the people did not.

Days after the levees broke and New Orleans and its people were left abandoned under 20 feet of water, a press conference was held in the East Bay on September 2. Individuals who were bereft and awaiting word on missing family members, ACORN community organizers, BOSS staff, a representative from Barbara Lee's office and more came together to speak out against the Bush Administration's slow response before and after Hurricane Katrina hit.

Rep. Barbara Lee expressed her outrage through a press release read by her representative: "If ever anyone doubted that there were two Americas, this disaster has made this division clear. The victims have largely been poor and black. The devastation from Hurricane Katrina only underscores the disastrous consequences of the Administration's failure to take even the most basic steps to alleviate poverty in the United States. The Administration cannot ignore this reality."

At a community rally on September 7 at Uhuru House in East Oakland, Bakari Olatunji also spoke the words, "There are two Americas." The term describes the gross racial and economic inequality that divides people of privilege and the poor.

Does this administration and many that have come before treat people of color differently than upper-class white people? Brother Olatunji said that the actions and the lack of action in New Orleans were concrete and irrefutable evidence of the blatant disregard for this nation's poor people of color. From a handout at the meeting: "If we were unclear before, there can be no doubt now that there are indeed two Americas -- one for the white and wealthy population which was easily able to evacuate New Orleans, and one for the African community, which lives in conditions of near-slavery, poverty and powerlessness."

Oprah Winfrey, on location in New Orleans, tried to convince a National Guardsman and Mayor Ray Nagin to let her into the deserted Superdome. "You had thousands of people who were in here for six days who had no place to go," she said, "so I don't understand now why it's such a big deal that I can't be let in to see where thousands of people had to live for six days."

After releasing the city of all liability, and under armed guard, she was allowed to enter. Winfrey was overwhelmed immediately with the smell of death and human waste. "This is where a national disaster becomes a human disaster," she said.

As she stood looking into the darkness inside the dome, she began to understand the deplorable conditions that the evacuees had to endure. "This is what I am just now getting; just imagine being trapped inside with no electricity," she said. "It is dark in here, and it was dark the whole time -- piles and piles of garbage and human waste and hundreds of armed gang members running the show."

Mayor Nagin shared his thoughts: "Magnificent facility like this, turned into a hellhole. The little things are so important and these people were in here with nothing. They didn't know what was going on outside, they weren't getting much information, they weren't getting enough food and had lost everything and they did not know where all their relatives were." Oprah called it "Hell on Earth."

Only deep human generosity, compassion and self-sacrifice can alleviate human suffering. In the aftermath of Katrina, as the country's leaders only talked about rescue and began to blame each other, we, the people, responded. Many came from across the country to assist the evacuees. Story after story of heroism and self-sacrifice has been reported, and the help continues to pour in.

Perhaps there are three Americas: The true human essence of this country exists in the people who rushed to New Orleans and the surrounding counties. There were those who stayed in the death waters of New Orleans, people who cared and comforted for the injured, the children, and the elderly, in spite of extreme personal danger and loss, and with no sign of rescue.

The doctors, the nurses, the volunteers, the able-bodied survivors, Oprah's Angel Network of volunteers, Red Cross volunteers, and the New Orleans police (85 percent of New Orleans police officers stayed through it all and are still there). The able-bodied rushing to assist the fallen, carrying them out of the death waters of New Orleans. If the government failed, the people did not.

BOSS Executive Director boona cheema expressed concern about the long-term effects of the disaster. She said, "Katrina's aftermath is just beginning and will be felt for many years to come. It will be felt by every poor person in the country. The minimal safety net of housing, education, transportation and health care has been ravaged by local, state and federal cuts since 2002. The Bush Administration, through its anti-poverty policies, has gutted our communities. The $250 billion needed to rebuild after Katrina will mean deeper cuts in the future for the people we serve."

Katrina is a terrible, horrific disaster. It has brought a nation to its knees and has moved its citizens to tears. Over a million people have been displaced overnight and are now scattered homeless across the United States. And that is only half the truth: The U.S. homeless population before Katrina was already in the millions. At present, it is estimated that between 1.3 to 2 million people are homeless each year, and 33 percent of these are families.

Homeless service providers, mental health agencies, human services and housing agencies were already suffering under deep federal and state cuts. What will happen as hundreds of thousands pour into their doors in need of services?

What about the homeless population that are not Katrina survivors, the families that have been sitting in our shelters or living on our streets waiting for months and years for aid, for livable wages, affordable housing, for a chance to support themselves? Who will be moved enough to help them? Where are the telethons, the volunteers, the fundraising efforts?

Millions were in need of aid way before Katrina hit, and there will be millions in need long after the memory of Katrina recedes into the past. Katrina's survivors will meld into the familiar faces that we see every day, the poor and homeless.

We've seen what the Bush Administration is willing to do. Now it's up to the "third America" to reach deep into their hearts and pockets to give locally and nationally.

To help Katrina Survivors:
1-800-HELP-NOW (1-800-435-7669)

To help local homeless people:
BOSS 510-649-1930

Acorn Community Organization
Hurricane Relief Fund
510 434-3110, ext. 232

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

© 2002-2005 STREET SPIRIT. All rights reserved.

Published by American Friends Service Committee

Editor : Terry Messman

Web Design: Robert Mills, Web Weaver CyberB Solutions