Vincentian Pastor in New Orleans gets professional help from DePaul University organization that studies issues of land-use and community planning.New Orleans trip to repair, rebuild
by Jake Malooley
Staff Writer
The Public Services program, in association with the DePaul Chaddick Institute, has announced it will lead a week-long December field study visit to storm-ravaged New Orleans to aid in some of the first stages of urban planning as the city begins to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
The team, which consists of 12 Public Services graduate students and Chaddick scholars and at least two faculty members, intends to write a proposal for the community that will lay out steps to tackle issues of housing, jobs and healthcare. The public services team plans to facilitate communication between community and governmental agencies in New Orleans through scheduled meetings and focus groups so the organizations can efficiently collaborate their efforts to help residents rebuild their houses and find affordable healthcare.
Program manager of the DePaul Chaddick Institute, an organization that studies issues of land-use and community planning, and a member of the team, Joseph Kearney said the team�s focus on intangible elements such as engaging residents in the urban planning process is an important step toward a new New Orleans.
�I think our group brings a human touch to a neighborhood that needs more than just bricks and mortar,� Kearney said. �We can have a very reassuring presence for the people who are nervous about all the changes that are about to take place.
�There are so many decisions to be made that we need to have grassroots participation in the planning process. The federal government doesn�t do that very well,� he said.
The team is going at the request of a Vincentian priest at St. Joseph�s parish in New Orleans that saw the need for the expertise of urban planners to be involved in the rebuilding of the severely damaged community surrounding the parish. Father Henry sent the request to DePaul President Father Dennis Holtschneider. The request was finally given to the director of the public services program, J. Patrick Murphy who said he knew that the public services program was well prepared to respond.
Murphy decided to develop the trip into a class that would fulfill the service project requirement for advanced urban planning graduate students. Murphy put assistant graduate professor of public services and assistant director of the Chaddick Institute, Dr. Gloria Simo, PhD, in charge of organizing the team and coming up with goals for the field study.
�I teach a needs assessment class, which started right after the hurricane so we utilized that as an example for what to do when you have a myriad of problems,� Simo said. �I told Father Henry, �We are actually already working on this in my needs assessment class.��
The group will fly to New Orleans on Friday, Dec. 9 with tentative plans to stay in the dormitories of Loyola University of New Orleans, and return the following Friday, Dec. 16.
The first issue the team will tackle is housing. Simo said, �If there is not adequate, safe, decent and affordable housing, the rest of the fabric of the community doesn�t work.�
Simo calls getting community residents back into their homes or into new homes a �major step.�
The hurricane only worsened and exposed problems that existed in the community previously: unemployment, untreated health problems and shabby housing. Before the hurricane hit the area, the community surrounding Father Henry�s parish started a Community Development Corporation (CDC) and received a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to build new housing.
“The grant [the CDC] got was before the hurricane,” Simo said. “So now they need to backtrack a little bit and say, ‘Are there houses that need to be repaired before we can think about building new ones?’ We can help them to sort through the policy issues that are imbedded in the grants.”
Another major issue for the team is identifying objectives and steps for government agencies to provide healthcare for the mainly poor residents in the community, which is in the shadow of the Louisiana Superdome.
“The majority of people that live in this area are poor. Therefore, many don’t have any healthcare,” said Simo. “As a result of not being evacuated, they have worse health problems than they had before.”
Simo said Father Henry has expressed frustration over mismanagement to properly distribute donated items such as food, clothing and bedding. Simo and her team intend to step in and fulfill the missing urban planning pieces to counteract some of the disorganization.
�Some of the things that happened in terms of the federal government is because it wasn�t planned out in advance,� Simo said �Like: �What are we going to do if we have a disaster of major proportions.��
One of the key challenges for Simo and her team will be working in anunfamiliar territory in a chaotic environment that changes daily.
�We don�t have a good sense of what was there, what has been destroyed and what is partly destroyed,� said Simo. �We are going to have an idea of who we are going to talk to and what we are going to do when we get there, but things may change. And we are going to respond to that change, and respond to what is needed most.�
Simo plans to have an ongoing relationship with St. Joseph�s parish and the surrounding community after the January target deadline of the team�s planning proposal. Simo sees the possibility of taking future trips to New Orleans over DePaul�s spring or summer break.
Despite the problems and unknowns that will inevitably and expectedly arise in their journey, Simo and her team are resolute in their goals to serve the community, and they realize the lasting impact their efforts may have.
“Someone said to me a couple of weeks ago, …[New Orleans] is the first city of the 21st century to be built,… and we need to do it right,” said Simo.