Friday, September 02, 2005

Open up your homes and your hearts

A personal story if you please. When I lived in a small town in South Texas as a newspaper owner, I would often pen effusive editorials about the problems and possible solutions, to certain city happenings. But other wise, usually older, men would tell me, “It don’t matter what you say, it’s what you do that counts. You want things to change? You have to get directly involved.”
I took that advice, ran and won a seat on the city council and spent two years trying (mostly unsuccessful) to implement my ideas into concrete policies. I tried because it was useless to speak in platitudes; one needed to take action.
I draw this analogy because it is time for people to become more involved in what’s happened (and still happening) along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It is a chance to do more than give (cash) money to relief agencies; it is an opportunity to get more personal about one’s ability to be charitable.
Open up your homes to needy families, not just your wallets. Find online networks or go through churches and social agencies to see if a family need a place to stay for an extended period of time. And then, open the door, extend a hand in friendship and say, “Mi casa es su casa.”
My wife and I are doing just that. We met this very nice family who barely left the city in time to avoid being stuck and swamped by Katrina. Well-educated, they were like many folks who had ridden out prior storms and just
“It was the final blunt warning from the mayor (Ray Nagin) and just how emphatic it was that convinced us we had to leave,” the father said. “I tossed my son a phone book and we began to call hotels out of town as we drove away.”
They slowly made it to Little Rock, Ark., and then to Dallas, where he has several clients in his consulting business. Being here will allow him the luxury of continuing to work while waiting for New Orleans to re-open for personal assessment.
It has been overwhelming for he, his wife, their two teenage children and family dog.
“It seems like yesterday when we left and it’s Thursday already,” he said sheepishly. “You just don’t imagine where the time goes. It’s all a kind of blur.”
Usually happens when you’re on the run.
I’ve personally seen this kind of uprooting devastation before, albeit on a smaller scale. The 1994 tornadoes that struck Lancaster destroyed hundreds upon hundreds of home and an equal amount of lives (as well as causing three fatalities). People whom just the afternoon before led normal, quiet, productive lives were left wandering and wondering what would happen next … and where they would go.
Help from across the region, state and country arrived; it was gratefully received and appreciated. But not everyone recovered. Lancaster lost much of its population base as people had to start over from nothing with nothing. While a recent housing boom has existed in that community, you can still drive through section where concrete slabs stand as unintentional memorials to that horrid Monday night – untouched, undeveloped and not remembered. The city’s Town Square never returned to its Main Street designation, received just 30 days before it was blown away.
Still, homes were opened to displaced families – in neighboring cities in south Dallas County and throughout the Metroplex. It was done because it was the right thing to do and no official – local, state or federal - had to tell these people to do that.
The recovery in New Orleans will take months to complete, if not years. Until simple things are handled, such as massive sanitation and cleanup of debris and disease causing materials, no one will be able to safely enter that city, let alone think about re-establishing residence. Families will need new homes for a while and most of them won’t the immediate financial and employment needs to accomplish that.
So this is where you step in! Show your complete compassion and heart by housing as many families as you can. Give them back a little sense of normalcy that exists inside a living home instead of a hotel room.
On the Dallas Morning News’ editorial group blog, their esteemed Louisiana native (Rod Dreher) suggested that people visit local hotels and inquire if there are any New Orleans evacuees registered. He asks people to pay for a night’s stay or two, as the evacuees’ resources will begin to run low.
I say to take it a step further. Invite them to stay in a home instead of a sterile hotel room. If you have room, or know of a situation (apartment/rent house) that is vacant, allow these families to stop suffering – emotionally and financially.
If you have a home, have a heart.

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