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August 26 2015

Fred Smith, the First President of HOPE Coalition America Reflects on 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina

After responding to the 2004 hurricanes in Florida, HOPE Coalition America (HCA) was servicing survivors, recovering and documenting the lessons learned in those hurricanes and developing new procedures and programs to respond to future disasters.  The time to reflect and write new operating procedures was cut short on August 29, 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.  The damage dealt by Katrina was unlike other disaster districts I had previously observed.  The massive destruction and displacement of families took me back to photos used in military training to introduce discussions on rebuilding countries after a war; in Air Force terms, after a country has been bombed for a few years.  The mental and visual images in the region did not prepare me to deal with the families and small children I met in disaster recovery shelters and in long lines in disaster recovery centers in Louisiana and Texas.  People who were self-sufficient before Katrina, who were now totally dependent on government and non-profit resources to live another day.

In late 2005 and 2006 HCA services were focused on how to apply for, receive and effectively use the financial and other resources available.  These activities merged into the home repair process, including self-inspections, choosing and managing a repair or rebuild contractor, filing for Earned Income Tax Credit and insurance claims assistance.  In consultations with our clients, we found many of them were small business owners or self-employed and we expanded our services to meeting all of their recovery challenges.  As various other disasters occurred in the region, clients who were on a positive recovery track reverted back to economic survival when their sources of income were reduced or destroyed.  Recovery is seldom an upward sloping curve.  Even now, the demand for financial recovery services and programs continues to expand for individuals recovering from disasters in Louisiana and for individuals who migrated to the state to obtain jobs supporting the recovery processes.

Days have become months and Katrina recovery is now measured in years.  Much has changed and there are many unresolved challenges.  To continue building a stronger, economically viable region, small and medium size businesses must be provided additional programs that encourage and allow them to grow and employ more people at higher salaries.  The focus of the community rebuilding process must expand from the "need for more affordable housing" to employment opportunities and economic growth that moves low income renters to home owners and market rate renters.

Fred D. Smith, former HOPE Coalition America President

Colonel USAF Retired