September 16, 2005
Covenant House and other stories

This story about the director of Covenant House in New Orleans bringing her kids to Covenant House in Houston is a good one. Note especially how the kids are handling it.

Soon the majority of the New Orleans people had settled into their new city. [Executive director of Covenant House New Orleans Stacy] Koch said that after some initial confusion, things have gone smoothly.

"At first the kids wanted to stay in New Orleans," she said. "But in a way, the kids have better resources to deal with change than the staff does. Once they knew they were safe, they've dealt really well."

"Now we've come to the place where the kids are pretty well settled," [Covenant House Texas Executive Director Ronda G.] Robinson said. "One thing that's been great has been the attitude. Once they got clothed and fed, they took off on their own and got jobs. It's actually had a positive effect on my kids because they don't want to be outdone."

Several of the New Orleans youths have gone to local restaurants and gotten jobs. Others have enrolled for classes at Texas Southern University or the University of Houston.

Eighteen-year-old Isisiah said he has lived on the streets of New Orleans all of his life. After a previous stint at Covenant House, he re-entered the program on Aug. 22.

The events that have taken place since then, he said, have had a huge effect on him.

"I knew I had to get a job quick," he said. "In New Orleans, I was getting a GED and working at a KFC. I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to get a job. But I got a job and have applied for the Job Corps."

Isisiah was one of the first Covenant House New Orleans evacuees to find work in Houston, getting a job at Papa John's making pizza.

Since then, he's been preaching to his fellow evacuees that they need to see this transition as an opportunity.

"My problem was always thinking that everyone was out to get me," he said. "I was impatient. And I realized I needed to change that.

"A lot of New Orleans people never really had anything," he added. "I knew I had to change my attitude or that was going to be me for my whole life. I needed to change the way I talked, walked, acted, everything. When you go through so much for a long time, you've got to be the one to decide to do right. I'm trying to motivate everyone here.

"I want people to get jobs, to focus on their GEDs, to look at this as a way to change yourself. If I can do it, you can."

Via email from Linkmeister, here's an update from Dr. Mattox at the Astrodome which also strikes a very optimistic note.

From a social science standpoint, we are seeing a transformation in attitude among many of our new citizen guests, only about 4000 of whom remain on site. They have been totally treated with respect, and they are changing many mental attitudes. Some who come from three generations of parents who cannot read or write, are now saying, “You have treated me as a human for the first time in my life, I wish to be a contributing member of society, can you enroll me in school?” We then enroll them. Someone who is much smarter than me MUST began to write up the social science part of this operation, There is an ACUTE change, an intermediate development, and then we must monitor what is happening long term. I recognize that there are pessimists and skeptics on this list server, but believe me, I think this is a fantastic new beginning of a whole new wave of social change. If we assume a welfare state, it will happen. If we assume that with the destruction of a city (like the burning of Atlanta during the war between the states) a new and even better society can be developed, then the appropriate changes can occur, in health care, economics, government. Who knows, the Napoleanic code of Louisiana government may be changed.

I imagine we'll be studying the effects of the evacuation for many years to come.

In the news: The number of evacuees in Houston's big shelters continues to shrink, with the population at Reliant Park being condensed into Reliant Arena. Houston's housing market is officially no longer soft, with apartment occupancies at record levels. They may stay that way for awhile as a plurality of people in Houston's shelters do not want to return to New Orleans, with many of them wanting to stay here.

Finally, here's another Austin update from Hope and one from Ray, some San Antonio news from The Jeffersonian, and via 'stina we have 826 Valencia, which has sent volunteers in to the shelters to work with the children. Here's more on what they hope to do.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 16, 2005 to Hurricane Katrina | TrackBack

Houston: Thanks.

Posted by: NY-USA on September 16, 2005 11:21 AM

I've been doing some temp work at the bookstore at Houston Community College's Central campus for the past month or so and, over the last week or so, we've had a bunch of students from New Orleans come in to get books. They're getting some financial aid to help with their education and a few of them have commented about how much they appreciate all the help they've been getting here.

As to whether they're going home again, that's been a mixed bag.

Posted by: Sue on September 17, 2005 8:36 AM