Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Providing Relief and Recovery Services After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Accountability


The lack of accountability of many FBCOs that participated in the relief and recovery efforts makes it difficult to assess how services provided do or should fit into the larger plan for disaster response. Few FBCOs kept detailed records of the numbers or characteristics of those who received emergency services. Even among the organizations that kept records or felt that they had a good sense of the magnitude of services delivered, definitions of units of service are unclear, do not easily translate into individuals served, and are often not comparable from one organization to the next. Providers who offered highly professionalized services, such as Common Ground Health Clinic, or services that created liability issues, which would require service recipients or volunteers to sign waivers, are exceptions.

Determining who was eligible to receive services was often not well thought out. FBCOs frequently responded to the needs in front of them, giving little time or thought to establishing criteria for who should be (or was) served. Except for negotiations within a long-term recovery structure, the case study organizations often made no attempt to use income levels or prospects for insurance reimbursement or other types of assistance as a screen for assessing need for services. Long-term recovery structures typically used some type of eligibility threshold, but, in several instances, the process of determining these criteria and the advocacy of case managers was questioned for its lack of transparency. Some interviewees in the case studies questioned whether, in a disaster of this size and complexity, the huge sums FEMA contracted for case management rather than for a richer array of human services such as mental health services, job training, or child care represent an inherent imbalance in the approach to disaster services.

The general lack of accountability during the crisis and its aftermath can be seen in the conflicting stories of acts of generosity and potential underlying discrimination. Neither the survey findings nor the case studies provide a clear picture about how individuals were triaged for helpfor example, directed to one emergency shelter rather than another. How much of this help was unconditional and untainted by racial or class distinctions is not known. Some interviewees tell of unlikely but fortuitous liaisons between hurricane victims and military units. Others tell of the chaos and heavy-handed response of some law enforcement units, both to the evacuation order and to the threat of civil disorder in New Orleans. The variations clearly speak to the need for better understanding of how assistance is distributed, and how maintenance of order can be achieved with equanimity in a crisis of this magnitude.

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