Taken from the website of Poppy Z. Brite, author of the highly entertaining LIQUOR, PRIME, and the upcoming SOUL KITCHEN:
Occasionally I’m asked by friends Not From Here, “New Orleans is better now, right? You had Mardi Gras!” or “Are you doing OK?” or some variation. Sometimes, particularly if they’re contemplating a visit, I even try to reassure them: it’s very possible to have a good, safe time here; the French Quarter is fine; lots of restaurants and bars are open. In truth, though, New Orleans and most of its inhabitants are very much Not OK. I present to you a baker’s dozen facts about life in the city seven months after the storm. Some are large, some small. I think many of them will surprise you.
1. Most of the city is still officially uninhabitable. We and most other current New Orleanians live in what is sometimes known as The Sliver By The River, a section between the Mississippi River and St. Charles Avenue that didn’t flood, as well as in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny. In the “uninhabitable sections,” there are hundreds of people living clandestinely in their homes with no lights, power, or (in many cases) drinkable water. They cannot afford generators or the gasoline it takes to run them, or if they have generators, they can only run them for part of the day. They cook on camp stoves and light their homes with candles or oil lamps at night.
2. There is a minimal police presence, and most of it is concentrated in the Sliver. Homes in other parts of the city are still being looted, vandalized, and burned.
3. Many parts of the city have had no trash pickup — either FEMA or municipal — for weeks. Things improved for a while, but now there are nearly as many piles of debris and stinking garbage as there were right after the storm.
4. There are no street lights in many of the “uninhabited” sections, which makes for very dark nights for their residents.
5. Many of the stoplights, including some at large, busy intersections, still don’t work. They have become four-way stops (with small, hard-to-see stop signs propped up near the ground) and there are countless wrecks.
6. There is hardly any medical care in the city. As far as I know, only two hospitals and an emergency facility in the convention center are currently operating. Emergency room patients, even those having serious symptoms like chest pains, routinely wait eight hours or more to be seen by a doctor. We have, I believe, 600 hospital beds in a city whose population is approaching (and may have surpassed) 250,000.
7. Most grocery stores, many drugstores, and countless other important retail establishments are only open until 5, 6, or at best 8:00 PM because of the lack of staffing. This is only an inconvenience for me, but it’s crippling for people who work “normal” hours.
8. The city’s recycling program has been suspended indefinitely. We talk about restoring the wetlands that could buffer us from another storm surge, but every day we throw away tons of recyclables that will end up in the landfills that help poison our wetlands.
9. Cadaver dogs and youth volunteers gutting houses are still finding bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward. Of course these corpses are just skeletons by now — the other day they found a six-year-old girl with an older person, possibly a grandmother, located near her — and they may never be identified. The bodies are hidden under debris piles and collapsed houses. This is in the same section of town that some of the politicians are aching to bulldoze.
10. Thousands of people who lived in public housing were forcibly removed from their homes. It is now being suggested by much of the current power structure, including our very liberal Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas, that they not be allowed back into these homes unless they can prove they had jobs before the storm or are willing to sign up for job training. (Many of you may agree with this, and I did too, sort of, until I really thought about it. Hadn’t they already qualified for the housing? What about the ones who had jobs that don’t exist anymore? How can they find jobs in New Orleans if they don’t live here?)
11. There are still flooded, wrecked, and abandoned cars all over the streets, parked in the neutral grounds, and in many cases partly submerged in the canals out East. Now that it’s campaign time, Mayor Nagin is trying to come up with a solution for this, but he thinks maybe we should wait for FEMA to do it (!!!!!) and he claims the best removal offer he’s gotten so far was “written on the back of a napkin.”
12. Many of the FEMA trailers — you know, the ones costing taxpayers $70,000 each — have been delivered to homeless New Orleanians but cannot be lived in because the city doesn’t have enough people to come out and do electrical inspections, and the trailers need a separate hookup instead of being hooked into the house’s power supply, and a dozen other damn fool things. While these trailers sit empty, there is an easily constructed, far more attractive structure called a “Katrina cottage” that could easily be built all over south Louisiana. It costs about $25,000 less than the flimsy, uncomfortable trailers. FEMA refuses to use it because they’re not allowed to provide permanent housing.
13. A large percentage — I’ve heard figures ranging from 60 to 75% — of current New Orleanians are on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug. The lines at the pharmacy windows have become a running joke. When a visiting “expert” gave a Power Point presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder recently, the entire audience dissolved into hysterical laughter.