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Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Recently it was reported that since August of 2005, New Orleans' homeless population has doubled since before Hurricane Katrina and most homeless emergency shelters have still not re-opened, leaving many people to squat in abandoned homes and buildings. "Yet again, New Orleans is showing how important [or not important] it is that poverty be addressed in this country," said Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

Across New Orleans, from abandoned sections of the Lower 9th Ward to apartments near City Hall and even wind-shredded suburban houses — a homeless population that has nearly doubled since Hurricane Katrina is squatting in the ruins of the storm. Through pried-open doors of some of the city’s estimated 80,000 vacant dwellings, the poor, mentally ill and drug-addicted have carved out living conditions like those of the Third World.

“These are abandoned people, living in abandoned housing, in a city which in many ways has itself been abandoned,”
said Martha Kegel, executive director of UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a group that helps the homeless.

In many ways, New Orleans is a microcosm of how we as Americans care about the poor. Initially, Katrina brought out the best in us, and now almost three years later reveals the worst disregard in us as well. Many Americans have helped, yet many others prefer to look the other way and pretend that the abandoned do not exist.

And so, many questions are left unanswered ... What is the moral responsibility of neighbor to care for neighbor? Where would responsibility begin? In our own backyard, in New Orleans or both? Does personal responsibility even exist? Is there one?

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