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September 8, 2005 Austin, TX

Hopes are high among the 5000 evacuees (or "guests" as Mayor Wynn sincerely calls them)...there is plenty of food, bedding, medicine, showers—there is even a hair salon that some of the female evacuees set up...there are services for Catholics and Protestants and non denominations...there are Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, busses taking the kids to and from school, basketball goals, free long distance phone lines, a centralized online database for registering and finding loved ones, and much more serving the youngest (6 days) to the eldest (103 years young)...Basically, Austin has created a temporary "city" of sorts within their convention center, equipped with more social services and volunteers than I could have imagined.

So, Phase 1 (crisis management) is doing well so far here... Now, the "sustain" phase is beginning...the goal? As the Red Cross puts it, "to restore the resources these people had BEFORE the hurricane..." A valiant goal and a tougher realization, combined with the fact and understanding that many of the people here quite simply, did not have many resources before the hurricane and floods.... Quality of life...what it WAS, what it IS, and what it CAN BE...these are the questions to understand and answer....

Let me share some opinions on WHAT THE QUALITY OF LIFE IS (here in the convention center). Everyone we talked to praised the hospitality and service they are receiving here...Setting aside their angst for an ambiguous future, many of the evacuees say that they are "getting more here..." and "have better food and services here, than they did BEFORE the hurricane..." At the same time they understand that this is merely a "holding place to be guests in for a short time..." So, this raises the third question, WHAT WILL THE QUALITY OF LIFE BE? Factually, many will return to New Orleans and-or their homes that survived the floods...others will go to live with family and relatives in other parts of the country...the rest will make a life in and around Austin... So, how? Well, there will be elders who need assisted living, there will be youths who need daycare and schooling, there will be others who have a trade and will seek work to practice it, and there will be many more with no trade at all, leaving us with a situation that has an undefined direction...

So, you have those that will GO BACK HOME, those that will GO SOMEWHERE ELSE, and those that will STAY HERE...this is where this and other communities have the most work to do and as I mentioned above, this is where the most questions lie. This latter group will need housing and jobs...they will also need patience, endurance, and self significance.... This is going to be a frustrating time not only for the new guests seeking to become members of the community, but also for the existing members of this and all similar communities...point is, the future holds not an easy task for the "guests" or the community, and the assimilation process goes both ways...And lets remember, to a great extent, there are the "haves" and the "have nots", the communities being the first and the guests being the latter, and its going to take some giving from both sides.... It's not ideal and it sure as hell aint easy, but an eternal opportunity is being offered to us all...to serve...

In the meantime and all the time,
Just keep livin, McConaughey  

Take a look at my photo diary.
FROM: Oprah on Location: Inside the Katrina Catastrophe
Published on September 15, 2005

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