The anniversaries this week of Hurricane Katrina (10th) and Tropical Storm Irene (4th) carry lessons for a nation and for a community that cares about its most vulnerable members.
Here in the Berkshires, we learned on the fly how to pull together to support neighbors hit by disaster. When, in Williamstown, five percent of the non-student population all at once became homeless, the town government, faith communities, college, and individuals rallied to shelter them, to help salvage their possessions, and to support them in handling their shock. Most of the approximately 300 people lived in The Spruces, a retirement mobile home community.
The Red Cross and FEMA then helped move the recovery forward. Most of those displaced are now in permanent housing (though, sadly, for some that has meant leaving the area). And in the coming weeks, applications will be open for Highland Woods, the new senior affordable housing complex made possible by Higher Ground, with state, town, and college support.
This experience, and the relationships that it built, have opened our eyes to the challenges of responding to disasters.
There is another lesson worth noting, though. Somehow, as was the case in New Orleans and is true across America, our most vulnerable citizens live in the most dangerous places, by economic necessity.
The most effective, and most humane preparation we make, therefore, is the difficult but vital work of identifying and moving people in jeopardy before the next disaster strikes.