Pete Lee

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

Over the last couple of weeks, I've heard some criticism leveled at the American Red Cross from various individuals and local groups. I had the interesting experience of listening to a representative from KatrinaHousingNW.org obliquely criticize the Red Cross' sheltering efforts, noting the indignity of the whole situation.

I fully agree that, compared to being at home or in a nice hotel, it would completely suck to be in a shelter. And, even as a supporter and volunteer, I'd note that the Red Cross could certainly stand some improvements. That said, I think that caution should be exercised before those with little or no disaster relief experience level criticism.

My friends who have worked extensively with the Red Cross thought back on their experiences, and expressed some observations regarding sheltering individuals in private homes. Three key issues include:
-Inadequate security to protect refugees from individuals who may harm them (this is a critical point when it comes to children).
-Logistical issues with management of food, healthcare resources, and other refugee needs.
-Problems with refugees not leaving temporary housing.


Another issue is a bit complicated: a temporary shelter is just that: temporary. While I would hope that Portland would openly and warmly welcome anyone from New Orleans, the main focus of a shelter operation is to provide refugees with the readiness and means to return home, if that is their choice.

To illustrate my point, I'd note that there are few groups who are as well prepared to provide disaster resources as the American Red Cross. For instance, since the hurricane, they have provided the following:
-2.1 million overnight stays in 896 shelters across the US
-112,000 Red Cross workers from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
-Specialized training for an additional 74,000 people in disaster relief
-Over 8.8 million hot meals and more than 6.7 million snacks, in coordination with the Southern Baptist Convention
-Mental health resources to over 178,000 people

(derived from this press release)

While there are many Americans who would generously provide such things, it's important to remember that the good or service being delivered for emergency purposes is only as good as the logistics and infrastructure behind its delivery. If you need an acronym to remember this by, think FEMA.

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