Emergency Shelters for Haiti: Yes! But Not So Fast…

I want  to emphasize again as I had first done in my other post about Haiti that I am saddened by the events that have befallen the people there. It’s a tragedy. I really hope things smooth out for the citizens of Haiti; with prospects of “normal” life and a discernible recovery happening in the next few years.

Since the Haiti quake, like the horrid things which had transpired on 9/11, we are scrambling for answers to try to patch up the casualties of the disaster and assist with what we have. I have had several emails regarding the use of shipping containers as emergency housing units and sending them over to Haiti to help. It’s noble to think we can just act on a situation and have it fix things because it seems to address the need. The sad truth is that even if I spearhead a construction campaign using donated resources to build these units and cranked out 100 of them, to actually see them arrive in Haiti or any other place ravaged by natural disasters is highly remote. Why? Because believe it or not, there is more red tape than you can ever imagine. Imposed by whom you may ask? Our very own government, of course.

Katrina was the proving ground for FEMA’s responsiveness. Remember the backlash for the agency’s lack of foresight and responsiveness after the weeks and months that had passed since the unforgiving hurricane slammed the gulf cities? It was embarrassing. In the end, a lot of the temporary housing units brought into the destroyed areas were brand new mobile homes… which cost the government about $15k or so per unit uninstalled; and by the time they were transported and set up, they were about $30k each. What happened to those units? Well, after doing their job of housing the displaced people and exposing them to high formaldehyde levels, they are being destroyed since maintaining them isn’t a viable solution. Basically, “Get out, Katrina victim, and find a home somewhere else!”  NY Times Article on what they are doing with the trailers now. Not all of the victims received these trailers, there were a lucky few who had nicer, cottage-like shelters for which they didn’t (and still don’t) want to vacate from because “…they are so nice…”

Guess how many emergency shelter options were presented to the government after Katrina? 5? 12? Try somewhere near 70! All proposals were from different companies vying for their share of money and finding a solution for the next disaster which will surely revisit the U.S. again one day. What did they choose? Which shelter types are ready for deployment to the next emergency? You’ll have to dig that up yourself because clear answers are hard to find.

The indecisiveness of the U.S. government has placed it (and us) in a state of un-readiness for future disasters. So even if there was the magic bullet to solve the problem of housing victims of tragedy on a mass scale, the red tape created and juggling act performed by the agency we call FEMA keeps excellent, viable solutions from finding their way to the victims (future victims–surely an inevitability than a hypothetical).

As for Haiti and getting our vast array of ready-right-now emergency shelters down there, who knows what will make it down there, if anything. I think anything would work. Doesn’t have to be converted shipping containers. Could be tents, plastic domes, giant cardboard boxes… hell, it doesn’t matter as long as there is something besides the unforgiving sun; and relentless flies adding insult to injury–buzzing about the poor, broken-and-battered people strewn around the perimeter of makeshift clinics and hospitals.

We all want to help, but the pie in the sky notion that we can just create shipping container shelters and to Send them off to Haiti! is just a notion that needs to be shelved. Too many obstacles for the idea to be viable in the near future. By the way, there are already at least a dozen companies in the U.S. with a nice stockpile of converted containers, mini shelters and houseboats (some with tens and hundreds) that were made for disasters just like in Haiti, but I seriously doubt even one of those units will make it down there. Sad isn’t it?

Me, go out and create shipping container shelters for Haiti? What for? They will just sit there in the storage yard collecting cobwebs. We are so not prepared for another hurricane on the same scale as Katrina–thankfully, we haven’t faced a Haiti yet. YET.

To help, make a donation by texting “HAITI” to 90999 to give $10 (appears on your bill), or go to redcross.org. My girlfriend and I have given $50 to Haiti (Not much, I know, but it shows you that any amount will do good.) Help humanity… help the tens of thousands of new orphans in Haiti. Give a little. Your heart will feel good after you do, believe me.

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