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Helping Haiti?

January 20, 2010

There are many different ways to examine what has happened in Haiti since a magnitude 7 earthquake reduced much of the country to rubble.

We have seen pictures and videos of death and destruction that boggles the mind; bodies strewn amongst the broken buildings; dead children stacked like firewood outside a local school.  Most hospitals were completely destroyed, and those left have been overwhelmed with critically injured patients.

Haiti’s government has been paralyzed; nearly every critical government building is gone.

What happens to the 10 million people who call Haiti ‘home’?

If your home is destroyed, your source of income gone and you have no prospects to quickly replace either- what do you do? Set up refugee camps away from the city?  With what- toxic FEMA trailers?

The Obama administration has already committed the United States to taking in about 45 thousand evacuees, some of which have already started arriving.

Obviously these people can’t stay in Haiti- the immediate situation is too unstable.  But is the United States prepared to meet the needs of its new residents?

I’m guessing the answer is ‘no’.

What that influx of people brings with it is a very large service demand, particularly in the area of social services in what is already a tough economy.

I worked with people from the gulf coast post Katrina after they were evacuated to Washington State. People came to us with nothing- no money, no driver’s licenses or documents to prove who they were; they literally arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and sometimes not even that.

Non-profits, grassroots organizations, state, county and city government came together to try and create a safety net of support.  We wanted to give Katrina evacuees the tools to stabilize their lives and recover from the stress and trauma they’d experienced.

It was an uphill battle.  There were layers of red tape that were insurmountable.  The things we were able to provide, like housing, food or clothing were all temporary, and making matters worse, no matter how hard we tried, the left bureaucratic hand never knew what the right bureaucratic hand was doing.

The most eye opening experience for me was working alongside FEMA. It was a nightmare. Like, getting FEMA to do the right thing for an evacuee in need was next to impossible; I have dozens of stories that outrage me still to this day.

After a while I started to feel like I was putting band aids over people’s problems, only to watch the band aid fall apart and their wound rip open again, and again, and again.

When Americans were in their greatest time of need, America failed them.

Should we do something to help? Of course.  But what good are we doing the people of Haiti if we’re simply moving them from one place without an infrastructure to support them, to another place without an infrastructure to support them?

We’re about to find out.

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