Category Archives: hard times

helping haiti

Hearing about Haiti’s latest catastrophe, with homes and hospitals reduced to rubble, mountains of corpses decomposing in the 90-degree humidity, dwindling food and clean water supplies — who doesn’t feel compelled to hop on an airplane headed for Toussaint Louverture International Airport? The impulse to do something, anything, feels overwhelming.

But then what? Let’s face it — this is not a time when just showing up is enough. The most effective rescue and repair efforts here will come from organizations that run a tight ship, with the structure and experience to roll out operations quickly. We saw that with Wal-Mart in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. We’re now seeing that in Haiti with the U.S. military, and with smaller non-profit groups like Zanmi Lasante, aka Partners in Health, Paul Farmer’s organization, that already have infrastructure in place.

Zanmi Lasante has helped to bring clean water and basic medical care to rural Haiti for twenty years and, importantly, has trained locals to operate and staff a network of ten small town hospitals and clinics. According to Tracy Kidder, Z.L. may be the largest functioning health system in Haiti at the moment, being located in areas not as badly affected by the quake.

So be smart in how you decide to help. Give money to organizations with a long track record of working towards social justice in Haiti such as Partners in Health, Fonkoze, or Yele Haiti, to quickly bolster their resources. If you’re a trauma surgeon, anesthetist, or surgical nurse, if you have large quantities of surgical supplies to give, or yes, a private plane that can get skilled hands and supplies to Haiti, volunteer or donate now.

And if learning about Haiti is “all” you can do, do that, and support efforts towards basic sanitation, schools, health care, and local economies even after the country fades from the headlines. Favorite Haiti readings are Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying, a story of growing up in Haiti apart from immigrant parents, and of our flawed border operations, and Tracy Kidder’s “The Good Doctor”, with reporting on how American agriculture policy in Haiti wrecked small local producers.

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homeless in alaska

Dan Sullivan, Republican mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, recently announced that he’s hiring an executive staff member to reduce chronic homelessness. Check out my editorial supporting his plan, which was published in today’s Anchorage Daily News.

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tent city

Every city had shantytowns known as Hoovervilles during the Great Depression. The one below was located where Seattle’s Safeco Field is today. It’s probably no surprise to you that shantytowns are making a comeback lately. Also not surprising is that they’ve become a hot issue for cities and citizens, and for the homeless who are camped there and must pack up and move every few weeks. Literate, cosmopolitan Seattle hosts a 100-person tent city called Nickelsville, named for the mayor.

The demographics of homelessness have changed. Just five years ago, the homeless were mostly folks who even under the best circumstances have trouble with the basic structures of mainstream living. Many suffer from intractable mental illness or substance abuse problems. Not anymore. Now the homeless ranks include out-of-work electricians, engineers, and others who once worked for an hourly wage. Photo by MOHAI.


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buried but not forgotten

As everybody knows, the Seattle P-I stopped printing earlier in the month. So I keep up with the online edition, because P-I writers file stories you can’t get any other way. Today’s top headlines included one about the 209 deceased people who were cremated and buried together, under a trio of headstones, at Mount Olivet cemetery. Most of these local folks were homeless in life and their bodies went unclaimed after they died. Two were babies whose families couldn’t afford the burial costs.

When people stop writing about these folks, will anyone remember them?

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