The President and Texas officials are loudly proclaiming their readiness for Hurricane Rita. Good work is being done. Refineries are being secured, the nuclear reactor is cycling down, hospital patients are being evacuated, and so on.
My concern is that the authorities aren't doing enough to give everyone a fair shot at safety, regardless of race or social class. We're simply not ready unless our plans reflect the social and economic inequalities that complicate evacuation. "Get lost" is not a plan.
So far, Houston's housing projects are on alert and residents have received warnings and leaflets.
Public housing residents on alert, not being evacuated
Sept. 21, 2005, 10:19PM
By LORI RODRIGUEZ
Houston's public housing officials were on hurricane alert Wednesday as Rita barreled toward the Texas coast, while transplanted New Orleans officials began leaving their temporary quarters in Houston.
Local officials said public housing residents are not being evacuated.
"We're in full hurricane preparedness mode," said La Chanda Jenkins, communications director for the city's Housing Authority.
"We've sent out a notice to all our public housing residents telling them how they should prepare for the storm and what emergency contact numbers they can call."
The Housing Authority owns and manages nearly 4,000 public housing units in 17 developments across the city.
Since Hurricane Katrina struck to the east Aug. 29, officials also have been charged with finding local public or subsidized housing for eligible Katrina evacuees.
So, why aren't these projects being actively evacuated? I'm not familiar with the geography of Houston public housing. Maybe none of the projects are located in high risk areas. However, if there are public housing complexes in areas under evacuation orders, then the authorities should be actively evacuating residents.
We'd all like to think that even the weakest members of our wealthy country have the means to flee a catastrophe. The reality is that not everyone has the same opportunity to evacuate. A prime goal of every evacuation effort should be to minimize those inequalities. The only short-term solution is actively deliver help to those who need it most.
Busses should be pulling up to projects--wheelchair accessible busses. The Humane Society should be on hand to tag pets so that owners can retrieve them after the storm. (Pets turned out to be a major stumbling block in the evacuation of New Orleans. Some loyal pet owners just weren't going without their animals.)
In NOLA some people had cars but no gas. Lives could have been saved by sending out fuel trucks to top up people's tanks--especially if drivers had to agree to offer rides to others fleeing the city in exchange for the gas. Perhaps similar strategies could work in Houston.
If the government steps up the active evacuation of public housing or low income neighborhoods, critics will decry the death of personal responsibility and demand to know why these people weren't prepared to get out of town on their own steam. Such complaints are beside the point. This is about saving lives, not about pointing fingers. In some cases, active evacuations of public and low-income housing would save people who would otherwise die.