Hurricane Katrina victims arriving in PortlandThe site of Washington Monroe High School in Southeast Portland will serve as a temporary shelter for up to 1,000 refugees from the Gulf Coast region.
Citizens of Portland can rest assured that our local do-good community members are taking a pro-active role in organizing welcoming efforts for the 1,000 Katrina survivors. At this hour, there is no word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as to who or when they will arrive but it could be within the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours or as late as Friday.
After a flurry of short-notice meetings on Sunday, the mechanisms and community leaders are in place to ensure a warm reception for our new guests. The initial greeting at Portland airport will take place at a specially-reserved hangar where identification, health screens, and rest and refreshment will be provided by the Red Cross and Portland Emergency Services, headed by Portland Fire Bureau’s Mike McGuire in a new position created by Mayor Tom Potter.
From the hangar, survivors will be bused to their new home at the former Washington-Monroe High School where they can expect hot showers, clean clothes, and hand cooked meals. Preparations to make that facility ready for comfortable habitation have been underway since Saturday. Mayor Potter said he first learned of the special guests’ pending arrival late Friday evening.
“It is a great testament to the strength and resiliency of our community leaders and foundations that multiple short-notice meetings and actions could be carried out over Labor Day weekend,” said one participant. At four o’clock residents from Buckman, Kearns, and Sunnyside neighborhood were gathered at Buckman Elementary where Potter introduced the cast of players in this great endeavor. On hand were representatives from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Portland Public Schools, Portland Police Bureau, and the new Office of Emergency Management – this office receives direction from the Oregon Emergency Management Office which was initially contacted by FEMA on Friday. On site services which will be available for the survivors besides food and clothing will be phone, internet, medical, job assistance, and school registration. In addition to planned cultural activites, our special guests will also receive monthly bus passes from Trimet. The group of agency officials fielded many questions, but this reporter was most alarmed by the questions from the neighborhood concerning their personal safety from unruly survivors. One resident from Sunnyside, Mary Ann Schwab, asked whether there will be background checks to ensure that child molesters aren’t introduced into the neighborhood. The president of Kerns Neighborhood inquired, “Are we going to be safe?”
One can speculate as to whether these poor souls were watching Fox or Headline News for the basis of their prejudice, but concerns for civil liberties were put to rest by Police Chief Derrick Foxworthy, “We cannot require that US citizens undergo background checks.” As to the concerns by self-interested neighbors for their security, this reporter would suggest getting to know their neighbors first before casting judgement. As if they haven’t endured enough, this city would be ashamed to alienate our most honored guests, and fortunately our faith community is fully prepared to council the weak, the poor, and the sick at heart. At five o’clock, religious and community leaders from North Portland convened at the new Emmanuel Temple on N. Sumner. Potter and most of the same line-up presented the background information and the citizens and clergy piped up with questions concerning “what can we do” and how to maintain cultural sensitivity. There it was decided to ensure that community members will be present on each joint committee tasked by the agencies. These committees presently include operations and security, medical services, media relations, transportation, logistics, education, and public relations as well as a community advisory committee. The committees will evolve over the course of the re-habitation, as the needs of the survivors evolve in adapting to a new community or re-locate elsewhere. Several leaders have indicated that we all should be prepared for many guests that will want to be accepted as permanent residents. Of the more exciting committees, formed by Joyce Harris, is the Welcoming Committee which plans to ensure that cultural and spiritual resources are available immediately and that the multitude of weary travelers are treated with respect and dignity at every step. That is the one paramount concern of every agency working here in Portland, that each and every survivor is given the respect of a fellow human being who has been subjected to hellish conditions and who need as much support as they need to feel human again.
This will truly be one of the greatest humanitarian efforts ever undertaken by the City – probably since the Vanport flood, where, perhaps not coincidentally, it was African-Americans who were devastated by failed levees and poorly treated in response. Portland has the great honor and blessing to cherish these survivors in our midst and honor them in person for enduring what no man, woman, or child should ever have to endure. Please sign up to volunteer at Red Cross PDX If you’re ready to help with your clean clothes and non-perishable food items, bring them to the Salvation Army at – 1785 NE Sandy Blvd Portland, OR 97232 (phone 503-234-0825) — they’ll soon be in the hands of some of the most deserving people on the planet.