Eleven law students, members of the School's Humanitarian Aid Legal Organization (HALO), spent Spring Break in New Orleans, providing legal and reconstruction assistance to communities hardest hit and most economically vulnerable after Hurricane Katrina.
"We feel there's a major, lingering crisis," said Ramaah Sadasivam '09, co-founder of the new student group. "It's affected people's homes and businesses and changed people's lives."
While in New Orleans, the group pitched in with hammers and electric drills to rebuild a local church, but their main purpose was to provide legal help.
Neta Borshansky '09, also a co-founder of HALO, said that in the aftermath of the hurricanes, the Gulf Coast region experienced an exodus of lawyers, while crimes have only increased as social problems have been exacerbated.
The law students maintained a blog
during their trip and described the devastation that still haunts the city. "The streets were eerily quiet; almost no children were around, no pets, no police cars," they wrote. "TVs, couches, dining room tables could be seen strewn around the inside of many homes, covered in dirt and mold, untouched in almost two years."
Adequate and affordable housing for residents is still a major problem. Two years after the storm, many families are still living in FEMA trailers. In Jefferson Parish, an ordinance was recently passed requiring the removal of all private property residential temporary trailers. UC Davis law students, working with Loyola Law School's Hurricane Katrina Law Clinic, helped residents of Jefferson Parish write appeals to extend the deadline of their forced move.
In another part of the city, UC Davis students working with the New Orleans Legal Assistance Center (NOLAC), helped residents apply for federal assistance to rebuild their homes. Students also compiled data on the criminal justice system that will be analyzed by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, a non-profit capital trial organization committed to providing quality legal representation to people facing the death penalty in Louisiana.
On returning to UC Davis, a student wrote, "Nineteen months after the levees broke and destroyed parts of the city, people are still struggling to get back to a 'normal' life…. Basic essentials—access to education/schools, health care, and food—are absent in many parts of the city. I found myself wondering, 'How can this be?' and 'How can this be happening in America?'"Visit the HALO blogThe Davis Enterprise article