For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Renew, Rebuild, Rebirth."

Stepping out onto Canal Street again, I was surprised how little New Orleans had changed. The streets still meandered together, one shop after the next with tourists buzzing in and out. And yet, as similar as things were, I began to see something had changed.

In 2007, every store in the French quarter had a sign or a flag or a T-shirt for sale that advertised, "Renew, Rebuild, Rebirth." Houses and buildings throughout the area flew flags with those words. It seemed like the city was just asking for patience while it learned how to move forward.

Returning to the office where I worked in 2007 made me anxious. Three years before, one attorney alone had 250 open case files at a time. Contractor fraud was a way of life. People lived in toxic mold and FEMA trailers. The people I worked helped were proud of their city, but they were scared of each other. Most of their families had not yet come back.

This January, the office, like the city, still seemed the same. But I quickly realized that the clients (and the attorneys) were more relaxed. They still had problems, contractors still breached their contracts, but people didn't cry. The work load at New Orleans Legal Assistance now consisted of things that had nothing to do with Katrina. Some people had moved to the area after the storm. For me, seeing clients with non-Katrina problems made me realize something I hadn't understood that first night on Canal Street.

As I looked more carefully, I saw that the flags with the NOLA mantra had disappeared from the windows of the houses. In the office, people talked of credit card debt and taxes, not just toxic mold and contractors. It wasn't as if Katrina had never happened. It was just as if the city had simply done exactly what it promised it would do back in 2005 when the hurricane hit. "Renew, Rebuild, Rebirth."

Ashley Klein


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