This morning, the Associated Press reported that the tornado that came through Missouri City was the deadliest in the past 60 years, killing an estimated 117 people.
This tornado comes shortly after the storms and tornados that hit six Southern states in late April; Alabama bore the brunt of 300+ deaths resulting from those.
While the human toll that such events take elicits our immediate concern, the long-term damage is often overlooked. Often, natural disasters destroy homes, businesses, social services, and the infrastructure needed to start recovery – leaving many people homeless.
For a vivid example of what can happen, you need look no farther than New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast in 2005 killing nearly 2,000 people and creating nearly $81 billion in damage.
Even now, six years after the hurricane has come and gone, residents of New Orleans still struggle to regain their lives. The loss of 82,000 rental housing units, an escalation in fair market rents (an increase of 45 percent from 2005 to 2010), and a loss of health care institutions (5 hospitals and nearly 4,000 beds) create a situation where too many people are still facing homelessness.
In The State of Homelessness in America, we note:
- Total homelessness in Louisiana increased from 5,476 people experiencing homelessness before the storm to 12,504 people in 2009, the first data point available after the storm,
- Chronic homelessness in Louisiana increased from 939 people in 2005 to 4,815 people in 2009,
- Family homelessness in Mississippi increased from 210 homeless people in families in 2005 to 954 people in 2009,
- and unsheltered homelessness in Louisiana increased from 1,225 unsheltered homeless people in 2005 to 8,386 people in 2009 and in Missisisppi from 365 people in 2005 to 1,579 people n 2009.
The consequences of natural disasters – even long after the event occurs – are clear.
Like the people still struggling in New Orleans, the residents of Missouri City will need new homes, social assistance, jobs, health care, and other services to start recovery.
We, as a national community, have a responsibility to ensure that these resources are available and accessible to the victims of the tornado so that they can swiftly resume their lives with little additional disruption. By rapidly responding to the needs of Missourians, we can make sure that we keep homelessness at bay for those affected by the tornado.
Let’s make sure that we do not allow increased homelessness to be the legacy of any more natural disasters.