Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Katrina still presents needs near and far

For the month of July, sophomore journalism studies major Ian Tyson lived in a large warehouse lined with bunk beds. He bathed in an outdoor box shower where he had to wash himself in three minutes or less. Some days he would wake up at 5:30 a.m. and help feed other volunteers. 

While the scene has the attributes of a service project in a developing country, Tyson encountered these conditions in Biloxi, Miss., where he worked with the non-profit Hands On Gulf Coast, providing computer assistance to Hands On and other organizations. 

He was in the region through the Marsico Internship Initiative, which provided 35 students with $2,500 for their unpaid summer internships. Upon arriving in Biloxi, Tyson says he was struck by the devastation that still exists a year after the hurricane. 

“I don’t see any return to any normalcy for 10 to 20 years,” he says. Internet connections in the area were “patchy at best” with access in only a few cafes, he says. 

With so much work to be done, tasks would “just fall into your lap,” Tyson says. “If you want to do a certain kind of work, there is someone who needs it.”

While the needs in the Gulf Coast were apparent, the ripples of Katrina are felt throughout the country by evacuees who have settled permanently in new communities. Political science chair Susan Sterett, sociology and criminology assistant professor Jennifer Reich and psychology assistant professor Martha Wadsworth studied the delivery of services to Katrina evacuees in Denver. They interviewed 104 evacuees during their research, which was funded by a grant from the National Sciences Foundation. 

Although the most immediate needs were housing, other problems cropped up later. Evacuees had to recreate their identities, which was difficult because important documents like birth certificates and social security cards, work references and proof of addresses had “literally washed away,” the professors say. 

Sterett, Reich and Wadsworth recommend that in assessing the needs remaining a year after Katrina, that evacuees living throughout the country also are considered. 

Tyson is determined to raise awareness of the devastation that still exists in the Gulf Coast. 

“A lot of what goes on is hampered by the lack of distinct leadership and local government officials who lack resources,” he says.

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