The poor, the sick, the disabled, the prisoners, the low-wage workers of New Orleans, were all left behind in the evacuation. Now that New Orleans is re-opening for some, the same people are being left behind again.

When those in power close the public schools, close public housing, fire people from their jobs, refuse to provide access to affordable public health care, and close off all avenues for justice, it is not necessary to erect a sign outside of New Orleans saying “Poor People Not Allowed To Return.” People cannot come back in these circumstances and that is exactly what is happening.


There are 28,000 people still living in shelters in Louisiana. There are 38,000 public housing apartments in New Orleans, many in good physical condition. None have been reopened. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimated that 112,000 low-
income homes in New Orleans were damaged by the hurricane. Yet, local, state and federal authorities are not committed to re-opening public housing.

New Orleans public schools enrolled about 60,000 children before the hurricane. The school board president now estimates that no schools on the city’s east bank, where the overwhelming majority of people live, will reopen this academic school year. Every one of the 13 public schools on the mostly dry west bank of New Orleans was changed into a charter school in an afternoon meeting in early October.

The City of New Orleans laid off 3,000 workers. The public school system laid off thousands of its workers. The Archdiocese of New Orleans laid off 800 workers from its central staff and countless hundreds of others from its parish schools. The Housing
Authority has laid off its workers. The St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office laid off half of its workers.

Renters in New Orleans are returning to find their furniture on the street and strangers living in their apartments at higher rents – despite an order by the governor that no one can be evicted before Oct. 25. Rent in the dry areas has doubled and tripled.

Environmental chemist Wilma Subra cautions that earth and air in the New Orleans area appear to be heavily polluted with heavy metal and organic contaminants from more than 40 oil spills and extensive mold. The people, Subra stated, are subject to “double insult – the chemical insult from the sludge and biological insult from the mold.”

The Charity Hospital of New Orleans, the primary place for free comprehensive medical care in the state of Louisiana, may never re-open. Right now, free public health care is being provided by volunteers at grassroots free clinics like Common Ground – a won-
derful and much-needed effort but not a substitute for public health care.

The jails and prisons are full and staying full. Despite orders to release prisoners, state and local corrections officials are not releasing them unless someone can transport them out of town. Lawyers have to file lawsuits to force authorities to release people who have already served all of their sentences.
Judges are setting $100,000 bonds for people who steal beer out of a vacant house, while landlords break the law with impunity. People arrested before and after the hurricane have not even been formally charged by the prosecutor. Yet timid judges are reluctant to follow the constitution and laws and release them on reasonable bond.

People are making serious money in this hurricane but not the working and poor people who built and maintained New Orleans. The Small Business Administration has received 1.6 million disaster loan applications and has approved nine in Louisiana. According to Newhouse News Service, “Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he had been informed that 75 Louisiana electricians employed at the Naval Air Station in Belle Chasse were told that their jobs are being eliminated now that the work is being switched to ... Halliburton
Corp. Levin also said that maintenance workers at the New Orleans Superdome who were paid $15 an hour with benefits are losing their jobs to ‘out-of-state workers who agree to work for $12 an hour with no benefits.’”

Take it to the courts, you say? The Louisiana Supreme Court has been closed since the hurricane and is not due to reopen until at least Oct. 25.

While Texas and Mississippi have enacted special rules to allow out-of-state lawyers to come and help people out, the Louisiana Supreme court has not. Nearly every person victimized by the hurricane has a price-gouging story. Yet, the Louisiana attorney general has filed exactly one suit for price-gouging – against a campground. Likewise, the U.S. attorney has prosecuted three people for wrongfully seeking $2,000 FEMA checks.

No schools. No low-income apartments. No jobs. No healthcare. No justice. You saw the people who were left behind last time. The same people are being left behind all over again. You raised hell last time. Please do it again.

Bill Quigley is a professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans where he directs the
Gillis Long Poverty Law Center. This article originally appeared at commondreams.org.