5. What short-term (3–5 years) and long-term (20–30 years) recommendations would you make for improving social resilience and mitigating social vulnerabilities in the Gulf region? What do you anticipate will be the most significant roadblocks?
ADDING FLEXIBILITY TO ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS: MARY CLAIRE LANDRY
During Katrina, the Crescent House domestic violence shelter run by the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans burned to the ground. That event was a great disaster, said Mary Claire Landry, who is director of domestic violence programs with the archdiocese, especially because people who are at risk for domestic violence and sexual assault are particularly vulnerable during a disaster. But the event also gave the shelter an opportunity to assess the needs of its clients and how to meet those needs. “It was an opportunity to change the paradigm around how we do our work.”
The individuals who manage best during a disaster are those with a network of family and friends, said Landry. After Katrina, service providers, of necessity, became adept at helping people identify the resources available to them and connect with support systems that were already in place.
Consistent and accurate information also was critical. In the shelters that existed after Katrina, information was often conflicting and confusing. Having systems in place that can provide consistent information could make a huge difference for providers and the people they serve. Also, many people need help dealing with complex requests for information after a storm, such as how to fill out Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) applications.
Following Katrina, government structures that were rigid and narrowly defined were a problem. Community-based organization helped challenge this rigidity. The same thing is happening with the Gulf oil spill, said Landry. Organizations outside government are challenging traditional visions of services.
Changing the delivery of services to be more flexible often means moving away from institutionalization of services. This has the additional benefit of aligning programs more closely with the needs of service recipients. People in underserved populations tend not to trust the government and often cannot work their way through the restrictions on assistance. “That’s one of the things that have made us so flexible and resilient,” said Landry. “We have changed how we deliver our services and … how we are able to maneuver through government regulations.” Changes in New Orleans also have had a national impact as people in other places explore new and different ideas pioneered in the city after Katrina.