This month and next, when displaced senior citizens return to New Orleans to live in the newly constructed, The Terraces on Tulane, an affordable housing community, it will be a chance for them to share in a joyous homecoming. Evacuated by boat, helicopter and bus, their stories are many and their experiences are amazing. The scars of Hurricane Katrina remain, and most of them lost everything, but all are grateful to be back.
For 74-year-old Alice Blue, returning to New Orleans is a grand homecoming. "Katrina was something unlike anything I'd ever experienced before," she explains. "I didn't evacuate right away, I didn't think it was necessary to leave. I sat and waited and then went to bed. I wasn't frightened, I just prayed. They [evacuation teams] took us to the convention center, then to Austin. Then I went to California where my brother lives."
Blue's grandchildren and nephew live in New Orleans where Blue was born and raised. During her time in California, her son died and she found it difficult to adjust to the new location.
When the opportunity came up for her to move back, she jumped at the chance. "I'm so excited, I can't wait," she exclaims. "I love New Orleans, I don't have to have a car. Everything is so close."
The Terraces on Tulane (3615 Tulane Avenue in Mid-City) replaces Forest Towers, badly damaged by Katrina, and is a 200-unit community for low-income seniors and is operated by Volunteers of America, one of the largest nonprofit developers and providers of affordable housing nationwide. The Terraces on Tulane includes a computer lab and other amenities and offers residents health and medical services; transportation services; and planned social, educational and recreational activities. The Terraces is part of Volunteers of America's commitment to create more than 1,000 units of affordable rental housing in New Orleans.
Audrey Morris, 78, was also born and raised in New Orleans. Her two children, a nephew and nieces all live in New Orleans so she's glad to be back. Katrina is something that she says is hard to get out of her system. "It was so horrible," she says. "My son kept saying, 'it's not coming, it's not coming.' Fortunately, we left for Freeport at noon the day before the storm hit. We arrived at 3 a.m. but couldn't sleep from worry." Morris' sister evacuated to Texas. The storm was so stressful and hard on her sister's mental state that Morris believes it contributed to the onset of Alzheimer's and her sister's death last year at 72.
Eighty-year-old Louise Breaux has lived her entire life in New Orleans, except for her recent displacement by Katrina. When the storm hit, she refused to leave. Thinking that, at her age, she had seen the worst that life could offer, she simply did not believe that a disaster of such magnitude could hit. She said that she remembers that initially it was a beautiful day, and then she was standing by the window as the storm rolled in. She saw the telephone poles being lifted up out of the ground and then the wind blew the air conditioning unit out of the window. When she saw that a helicopter was coming to rescue her, she ran to get on it. Breaux was evacuated to Austin and then went on to Houston, always waiting to return to New Orleans.
"The courage, the faith, and the stories of these and the other seniors who are returning are truly remarkable," stated Charles W. Gould, national president and chief executive officer of Volunteers of America. "Their strength has furthered our resolve and commitment to help rebuild New Orleans and provide affordable housing that allows residents to return to the city and re-establish lost communities and re-build their lives. Volunteers of America has been part of this community for more than a century and will continue to play an active role in recovery efforts here and throughout the Gulf Coast region."
Volunteers of America has had a significant presence in New Orleans since 1896. The organization has been a leader during the past few years rebuilding affordable housing destroyed by the hurricane and is in the process of restoring new, permanent units in the city. In August 2007, the organization opened the newly renovated Duvernay Residence on Canal Street. The 70-unit facility for formerly homeless adults sustained more than $600,000 in damage from Hurricane Katrina. Additional units are being restored at the 3901 Tulane Avenue Residence, which also sustained significant damage from the hurricane.
In partnership with the Major League Baseball Players Trust and other major donors, Volunteers of America also established the Rental Housing Development Fund, which will be used to develop affordable rental housing in the Gulf Coast region.
Photo of the Terraces on Tulane from Renaissance Neighborhood Development Corporation (RNDC) (a subsidiary of Volunteers of America).
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