Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How does this all work?

One thing I haven't really touched on in this blog is the process the homeowners go through to obtain help from the government and what that help looks like. This is all 2nd hand information but I'll let you in on what I know...

Homeowners typically would carry hurricane insurance but not flood insurance (flood insurance is rather expensive). Insurance companies dodged the bullet by claiming that the majority of the damage was caused by flooding due to the tidal surge (25 feet in some places) rather than the hurricane.* Any damage caused by wind would be covered after the deductible is met. So if you lost part of your roof or you had water damage due to roof failure, insurance would cover the damages. Helpful, kind of. Any damage that was due to water entering the house at the ground level would classify as flood damage and is not covered. Very few houses survived the storm without flood damage.

For people with flood damage, FEMA has offered a maximum grant to homeowners of a little over $26,000. Any hotel bills and other expenses incurred would be deducted from the total grant. Homeowners can also apply for low interest loans through the Small Business Administration. For those who qualified for assistance, they would also be able to obtain a trailer that would be placed on their property for up to 18 months. Most mortgage companies will also give leniency to those affected by the disaster but the homeowner would have to lobby the lender themselves.

Current thinking is that materials alone will cost between $20-35,000 to fix the houses up. This does not include labor. Many are hoping to do the jobs themselves or have volunteer groups come and do some of the work.

Here's the rub as of this morning. Say you've purchased your home for $40,000 15 years ago. You have paid 1/2 of the mortgage off and still owe $20,000 on the home. The storm hits and destroys most of your house. You can rebuild by investing more money in the house (potentially more than the total initial investment) or you can try and get out of the house. Conveniently, the US Congress passed a new law allowing water based casinos to set up shop on land after Katrina so property values are rising as land becomes more precious. Casinos are now offering you $200,000 for your lot. It sounds like a good deal. You are actually making quite a bit of money from the deal if your home is located in the right area of town. The major hick-up in the whole deal stems around communication. Correct information is hard to come by. Casinos and the money they represent can be rather seductive and the communication on other options is slow to come by.

Apparently, many folks are thinking that selling their land is the only option. There is a new push to let homeowners know that there is help if they do want to keep going and rebuild. Today in Biloxi, volunteers are canvassing the area to let folks know what their options are.

In one sense, land is land...it's not eternal, it’s not people, its stuff. But there is plenty attached to that stuff.

A few weeks ago, I met a woman who was affected by the storm. She works for Bell South and lives in the house she grew up in. She was adopted when she was a child by two loving people. Her adopted mother died when she was 16 and her father passed away 2 years ago. The house was left to her and was full of mementos of the love her parents shared with her. The storm waters reached up to about 6 feet in the house, destroying all of the furnishings. She voiced a deep fear that what was left of her house, memories, symbols of love have all been destroyed and she is now alone - orphaned again.

*Note there would have been no tidal surge without the hurricane.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Almost Famous...

The conclusion of my time spent in Mississippi working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is nowhere near finished. Even though I’m clean and warm and sitting in my room in Monterey, the story continues to unfold. Some good, some bad and some just plain ugly.

Yesterday, I rode on 5 different planes in a successful attempt to get back to California. My journey started at 5 am and ended at 8 pm. I could have flown to Moscow, Russia and visited my relatives living there in the time it took to get home. During my layover between legs 4 and 5, I flipped through last month’s issue of Outside Magazine, which was running pictures of the Katrina aftermath, and was stopped dead in my tracks. There, on the front page of the article, was Wendell sitting in his wheel chair, shirt off, looking despondent. Some students from Carmel Presbyterian Church worked on Wendell’s house while he and 7 others were living there. As we worked I couldn’t help but notice how many cars stopped by the house. I heard last week that the house is a crack house, supplying drugs to the neighborhood. I was slack jawed at first but it didn’t really surprise me…it kind of sums up the dichotomy of the work we are doing down there. Did these people “deserve” to have folks come and help them out? Did they live lives worthy of having people help them? Not really. That’s not what it’s about anyway.

Popular misconception… Jesus’ love is warm and fuzzy…teddy bears and hearts and chocolate chip cookies. Hard actuality… Jesus’ love is big enough to send 10 high school kids and two adults 2000 miles across the country to spend 2 days striping the walls out of a crack house, not really expecting anything in return. We went in ignorance, which was okay because when it comes down to it even crack dealers have mold in their house that is spreading to their lungs. It’s an unsettling thought…especially to me. What’s next? Serving the poor? Seeking justice for those living at the hands of injustice?

On Friday before I left, I drove down every street that we had worked on in East Biloxi delivering pots full of tulip bulbs that we placed on the sites. When we turned the corner on Strangi St., I noticed that the landscape had changed dramatically. The house that Diane was living in (barefoot and off its foundation) had burned to the ground. June’s house next door, where the folks from Michigan had spent much of their week, had also burned. Apparently, Diane had started a fire in an attempt to warm herself in the cold weather. The fire spread and she left. It’s pretty amazing that her damp, moldy house would burn to the ground. It was really disgusting in there.

These are sad, troubling thoughts. I realize that many of the posts have been brimming with hope. Hope plays the lead role down there…it needs to…it must continue to. Yet this community is not without its challenges. The above two stories are reality. There is no way around it. That’s where we are. It is NOT where we need to stay. God's challenge is in making all things new...God's people are the hands and feet on the ground doing much of the labor. I'm thankful for PDA, UMCORE (United Methodists), Catholic Charities, Samaritian's Purse, Mercy Ships, Southern Baptists, Lutheran Disaster Response, Episcopal Disaster Response, Church World Service, even Islamic Relief f and the Burningman Bhuddist contingent for taking part in being the hands of God to the broken.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Finely feeling like Fall

A few days ago, I was having a hard time getting my mind around the idea that Thanksgiving is coming next week. It's been humid and in the 80s down here on the Gulf Coast. At least it was until Tuesday night. In about 5 minutes the temperature dropped by 30 degrees. Last night we were a little above freezing. We have about 100 people here this week who have moved in to the office area and the sanctuary to sleep. They are crowded but sleeping warm.

Yesterday I went out with some high-spirited canadians to deliver sleeping bags to the folks in East Biloxi because it was expected to be so cold. We gave out 20 in about 5 minutes. More are being distributed today as the temp hovers around 30 degrees.

I met a girl in her 20 from Michagan when I started down here. Here name is Megan and her boyfriend came down a few days after the storm to help out. She has done most of the work of organizing the East Biloxi Coordination and Relief center...over 1500 interviews with residents, coordinating the work of 30 organizations and everything else under the sun. She set up a tent on a vacant lot and that's where she has spent the night for the past 10 weeks. She's incredible and I am grateful she is here.

I am leaving in 2 days but many are staying and many more are coming still. I am so thankful for those who have given up much in the hopes of bringing Hope out of Chaos.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

New and improved

I found out yesterday that people were unable to leave comments unless they regester...that has been fixed. Comment away!


Saturday, November 12, 2005

The start of my last week

This is Saturday and the start of my last week. I'll be transitioning out next Saturday to return to California and see many of you who are reading this blog. For that, I am excited. The pace of the past month has been pretty quick. I'm on from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm. My only down time is driving from place to place. I'm looking forward to a leasurly sleep in morning, long bike ride and big breakfast when I come back.

This morning I sent a team of high school students from Flordia to a home to clean it out and take it down to the studs. When they got there they called me because it was completely full of furnishings, clothes, shoes, books, you name it. They wanted to know where they should put the stuff...my response was, "On the street". So hard to say. Once it's on the streets, frontend loaders will come and start halling it away and those items will be gone forever. They've got a big job ahead of them.

We have groups traveling in this week from Ontario, Canada, New Jersey, Cincinnati (2nd group), North Carolina, and BelAir, CA. More work will continue to be done. I saw the sign posted in the coordination center that over 300 houses had been cleaned out and there are 270 left...one for you and your friends to do! We are going to start having teams do mold abatement starting soon. Rebuilding teams will start coming in mass after the first of the year.

Speaking of which...I'm coming back here with a group from CPC (college students and adults) January 2-8. Want to come?

Do you know people who are in the traids...contractors, roofers, tree workers, electricians or plumbers? We can really use them down here if you do. Thanks for keeping your eyes out for them.

Please continue to think and pray for the the people of the Gulf coast. It's bad down here...real bad.

Friday, November 11, 2005

You never know...

You never know who you're going to run into down here. I went out this morning and ran into an old friend from high shool...Nick Rose. He came to the small church with a team from Fair Oaks Pres. Church to re-roof the local churches in the area, starting with the one our village is located.

Small world after all!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

CPC is in the HOUSE!!!

The folks from Carmel Presbyterian Church are in THE house... They're in Sara Walker's house to be precise. Sara is one of the people who holds all of E. Biloxi together and because of that she hasn't had much time or interest in taking care of her own house so 7 adults from Carmel are helping her with that. They have been joined at Sara's house with some fine folks from Livona, MI. Together, they are taking a house that had not been touched since the Hurricane (2 months ago) and clearing it out, getting it on track to be rebuilt.

As Martha might say... it's a good thing! Make sure to ask Ron, Ann, Sandy, David, Sue and Doyle about the smell!!!

More and More...

More and more…

…People are down this week to help clear houses. This week we have groups from Livonia, MI, Wake Forest, NC, Cincinnati, OH, Chatin, SC, Penn Laird, VA and Carmel, CA.

…People are coming. A group of high school students are heading in on Thursday to help out – 27 students and 6 adults. A group from Virginia Beach, VA will join us on Saturday. There should be over 90 folks in camp for the remainder of my stay here in MS.

…Mold is growing. I went into a house yesterday that had been closed up since the Hurricane hit, almost 2 months ago. It was disgusting. The first thing I noticed was the patterned/colored ceiling tiles. It reminded me of really bad 70s décor. Then I realized that it was mold which had taken over. There are still refrigerators filled to the brim with rotten food. Couches are still overturned and in need of an axe in order to break it all down and move it to the curb for pick up. And the smell…oh the smell…

…Houses being cleared. Yesterday we had folks working on “full guts” in 5 different houses. To get the scope on this, it’s taking teams of 7-14 people 2 full days on each house. On Friday I hope to send 11 teams out to different houses. Is it making a difference? Slowly but surely, it’s starting to.

…Locals are coming back. When the high school students from CPC were here a month ago it seemed that the only folks back were the ones who never left. Now people are starting to stream in who were staying all across the country, seeing their community flattened. I hope these people will bring an infusion of positive energy and love to the streets.

…Signs of stress are cropping up. The folks at a job site yesterday told me that they had seen a woman get food from the Red Cross mobile unit and then disappear into the house again. The house was off it’s foundation with debris from another house in blocking the way to the front door. I went over to check on her and see if there was anything we could do to help. When she opened the door, I met Dianna, a very skinny (think African famine) woman, probably in her late 20s with bare feet in a house covered in mud and mold. Her furniture was still upside down on the floor and the smell was noxious. She had evacuated, came back last week and didn’t want to leave the house. She was looking for something. I continued to ask if she needed help but she refused. I’ll go back and check on her today and will talk with social services as well.

…Organizations getting involved. UMCORE (United Methodists) received a $66 million grant from FEMA to provide 2000 mental health counselors and case workers to the Mississippi coast by January. There’s a “Burning Man” contingent that has taken up residence at the Buddhist Temple and helped get 100 Huffy beach cruzer bikes for people left without transportation. It’s a bizarre sight to see a typical Santa Cruz scene here in the heart of the ghetto.

…Thoughts in my head that I will save for another day.

May you see God's beauty in your circumstance today.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

People who make a difference...

I met a man last week who is making a tremendous difference to thousands of people who have been affected by Katrina. Councilman Bill Stallworth, from East Biloxi has turned this part of the city from helplessness to glimmers of hope. Mark White, who is running PDA down here, and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mr. Stallworth on Wednesday for a few minutes and he told us the following story:

2 days after Katrina hit Bill was in the center of the chaos. People were petitioning him for help with finding water and supplies, locating lost people, helping with the dead, finding places to stay; you name it the community was coming to him. Being a compassionate man Bill responded to as many requests as he could. That day Bill went to church to pray and to seek peace in the chaos. As he was walking out of church two men approached him and asked the question, "What is it going to take to get East Biloxi through this time?" In the midst of it all, Bill was given some divine clarity and laid out a plan for an operations center that he and all of the aid organizations would work out of. The men said that start up money would be wired into a new account for him towards the end of the day. These men were from OXFAM. Bill has made that start up money stretch for two months and the Lord has provided more money to cover things for the next few months.

Bill's story doesn't stop or start there. Bill has been in public service for almost 20 years although he had decided to step away from it a few years ago. Last year some folks from the community asked Bill to run for the city counsel again which he did. Bill received 92% of the vote in the easiest campaign he'd ever run. 52% was as much of the vote he had ever garnered in all of his previous elections.

It was as if God had him in a position to serve for such a time as this the job is huge. Please pray for Bill as he continues to lead and shape this part of Biloxi for years to come.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Reality Check Rain

Today I woke up to the sound of rain hitting the top of my trailer. Having lived in Seattle for several years, I find the pitter patter sound quite relaxing. I was up at 6:30, a couple of hours after the rain had started and walked in the building we are using as our offices (it has a hot shower as well). I turned on the lights and GC REALITY hit! GC REALITY, aka. Gulf Coast Reality = these are the facts of everyday life for everyone on the coast. The reality is that every house around the Gulf Coast has roof damage and most people, like me, spent a good part of the morning placing empty cups, bowls and cans under zillions of little drips coming from the ceiling. Just when we think life is returning to normal, subtle reminders occur to wake us up again to GC REALITY.

I spent several hours in Biloxi today and drove by the houses we were working on a few weeks back with the CPC high school students = THE KREW .
Ms. Massie's house is looking good. She wasn't around when I stopped by but the grass had been mowed. Over at Dianna's, things seem chaotic, which is pretty normal for over there. I also went by Gloria's to see if LA was around. His tent was soaking wet. The rain fly was in a pile on the ground and there was no sign of him.

I took some volunteers over to help set up the new Compassion Central site over on Howard, towards the Point. Those who were with me a few weeks ago might remember that the Point was totally destroyed by the storm. From the looks of it, nothing has been done to any of the properties. This area really seems hopeless. I had to pull over a few times and just pray as tears came to my eyes. There were a few FEMA trailers that had been set up in that area but not many. PDA's motto is "Out of Chaos...Hope" and I was praying for the faith to believe that hope can return to this area.

The reason that the Compassion Central moved is because those who have been running it have had a disagreement and have decided to split from each other. I don't know any details but I do know that there are a ton of folks that are being affected by this disagreement. Again, my prayer, "Out of chaos...hope".

I'm including some pictures in this email... The GC REALITY... Ms. Massie's house lookin real nice...the grade school over off of Division St....What's left of the Seashore Mission down on the Point...some sweet volunteers.

FYI: This week we have folks from New Jersey, Florida and Texas.

Lots of love,


The reason that the Compassion Central moved is because those who have been running it have had a disagreement and have decided to split from each other. I don't know any details but I do know that there are a ton of folks that are being affected by this disagreement. Again, my prayer, "Out of chaos...hope".

I'm including some pictures in this email... The GC REALITY... Ms. Massie's house lookin real nice...the grade school over off of Division St....What's left of the Seashore Mission down on the Point...some sweet volunteers.

FYI: This week we have folks from New Jersey, Flordia and Texas.

Lots of love,