Andreanecia Morris Executive Director Housing NOLA
The last seventeen years have seen so many things change in New Orleans. At one point, we were the fastest growing city in America, but today our failure to guarantee housing has made staying impossible. In the ten years after Hurricane Katrina, the flood waters receded and over 88,000 subsidized homes and apartment were either built or rehabbed—with most of those homes going to people whose lives had been upended by Hurricane Katrina and found themselves without a home. Today, we still need to bring home over 55,000 people and we’re no closer to getting there than we were on the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Last year Hurricane Ida reminded us of how vulnerable and unprepared we were to deal with our changing climate. The vulnerabilities that were exposed during Hurricane Katrina and Rita haven’t gone away. We’ve just built new homes and different opportunities on top of an incredibly shaky system.
We say #PutHousingFirst because we know that stabilizing everyone in New Orleans is not only possible, but also the only path forward. And our failure to do that is so deeply entrenched that now, as we approach the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ida and the 17th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, our leaders are ignoring the lessons we learned. Last year during Hurricane Ida every single person in the metro New Orleans area, the river parishes, and the Houma – Thibodaux area were effectively rendered homeless. Those who lost their homes due to storm damage experienced more traditional homelessness, but those of us who were without power for weeks and were forced to camp out in our own homes and try to make do with generators or find shelter with friends or in other communities experienced a type of homelessness as well. It is sad and tragic that less than a year later, not only have we not addressed the needs of the people who are still unhoused, we now have community members and elected officials attacking and blaming the homeless with no consideration or reflection on what happened to each and every one of us one year ago.
Recent headlines and articles paint those who are experiencing homelessness as “hurting businesses’ bottom line and negatively impacting curb appeal.” We are a city that has long prioritized appearing to pull together while pushing struggling residents out of the picture. And now we have officials saying the homeless want to stay homeless or harassing people for likes and clicks on social media. This completely dismisses all systematic barriers that prevent our most vulnerable from being able to choose any other option. And I wish I could say I was surprised by this turn of events—given the recent narrative in mainstream media, we are not completely surprised by these sentiments. Last year, we had elected officials garnering press by invoking the welfare queen stereotype while evictions for Black women and their children skyrocketed because of COVID.
This rhetoric is extremely harmful, and we cannot continue to disparage our homeless community this way. This isn’t an “us vs. them” scenario. We are all a part of New Orleans. We all belong here, and we need a community that puts its people first. If we don’t #PutHousingFirst, we will face an emergency from which New Orleans can’t recover.