Yesterday we visited a New Orleans cemetery. Tombs lined up close to each other, some of them stacked five tombs high. The tombs celebrate years of life and display remnants a loved one's visit.
Today we visited a graveyard. Shells of homes comprised the headstones that dot an open field of green grass and crisscross the abandoned streets where livelihoods were washed away and hopes were bulldozed. A few survivors dwell among the scattered headstones: Rebuilding, rebuilding, rebuilding. Although one neighborhood may be alive with contractors rebuilding, rebuilding, and rebuilding, another is eerily quiet, with two homes standing rebuilt among a landscape of ruin.
Five hundred and fifty law students descended on these graveyards this week. 150 of us sought to gather the stories of New Orleans' residents seemingly forgotten in their FEMA trailers. Eighteen months after The Storm, the few homeowners who have been awarded a grant to rebuild from The Road Home project still await the elusive money. The Road Home project allocates billions of dollars pledged by Congress to aid the rebuilding efforts of survivors. Yet, those who qualify are those who owned a home. Those who have historically been left behind -- by segregation and during the evacuation -- continue to be left behind. They are treading water in the waiting pool, with no land to stand on.
Citizens who chose to stay in New Orleans and were later forced to evacuate their rented homes languish in FEMA trailer parks scattered throughout the city under highway overpasses and in other sections of space no one cares to inhabit. Residents of these semi-permanent parks inhabit a space of 250 square feet. Of the 100,000+ people who may qualify and have applied to the Road Home, only 3,000 have been repaid for their loss.