Saturday, May 03, 2008

Struggles - and Episcopal response - continue in New Orleans

Katie Mears, with the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster Response, e-mailed out several articles about their rebuild program's recent work on Thursday. The program has been helping a number of families, including that of Alvin Thomas. Thomas was a mentally ill man who recently passed away, but Katie and the other folks at ODR are continuing to help his family. It is a sad story, but one tinged with hope, as is often the case in New Orleans.

The main article is called "Back from Katrina exile, man lived alone and died alone:"

Thomas, 54, had collected the first cans from a food pantry last summer, after returning from Katrina-induced exile in North Carolina. In early June, he walked, one bag in hand, from the Greyhound station on Loyola Avenue to his parents' narrow shotgun house in the St. Roch neighborhood, where he lived briefly before the flood. Soon, he had dragged a discarded mattress to the gutted house, where he lived alone, without electricity or running water.

Thomas' closest neighbors often saw him after dusk, locked inside the porch, listening to Christian sermons or jazz on a beat-up, gray boombox. Sometimes, he heard voices.

"But I don't worry about it," he said in an interview before he died.

Thomas was one of an incalculable number of people living in the city's abandoned houses. UNITY of Greater New Orleans, the nonprofit agency that fights homelessness, estimates that several thousand people -- the majority of the homeless in Jefferson and Orleans parishes -- are holed up in blighted houses without power or water. Like Thomas, many struggle with mental illness...

Katie Mears, who supervised the repair of Thomas' house with the Episcopal Diocese Office of Disaster Response, said the group increasingly works with disabled adults, either living with elderly parents or alone. As Mears drives through blocks of dark houses, she wonders how many are occupied.

"You don't know how many Mr. Alvins there are," she said.

The rest of the article tells Thomas' story, and that of his parents. A shorter article is here, and a video interview with Mears and another EDOLA employee is here.

Katie finished her e-mail, "We're still working on the house for Mr. Alvin's parents to live in. When they came back to New Orleans to see him at the hospital and for the funeral, they were able to look at the progress on the house--the new framing, plumbing, windows. In the midst of all that sorrow, it was good to be able to show them something positive."

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