Local grassroots efforts help victims of Hurricane Katrina

Americans are witnessing health disparities at a magnitude never before experienced in our lifetime. Hurricane Katrina has grabbed our attention and caused us to alter our agenda to respond to individuals in need.

Katrina has forced us to step back and do some soul searching about what it means to be poor, homeless, jobless, sick, elderly, and separated from family. Our society uses such labels when identifying the less fortunate, the groups of people who make the streets their home, the "homeless" individuals holding their signs asking for help as we drive pass. However, Katrina's devastation challenges us to find yet another label and definition for its victims. 

I have come to learn that this is necessary, for federal funding relies on labels. Both social and health care systems invoice based on labels, and community organizations justify requests for funding according to the label standards.

A recent Associated Press article did some investigative reporting about the different terms now used to reference. Should we call the victims of Hurricane Katrina refugees or evacuees? Each term has a different definition, and one has a specific governmental response or lack thereof. This has been graphically demonstrated by the survivors Katrina rushing out to buy guns in the areas ravaged by the storm. But what does this have to do with ending health disparities and why should it concern us in Rainier Valley? Southeast Seattle residents have much in common with some of the hardest hit people in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Rainier Valley is the most ethnically diverse community in the city with individuals from 114 different countries living in the Southeast Seattle neighborhoods, according to John Jones of ACORN. It is home to many immigrants, refugees, poor, low-income, jobless, elderly people along with those simply separated from their families.

According to Public Health Seattle-King County, one out of 10 adults does not have health insurance. The uninsured are more likely to require emergency care, and they have poorer medical outcomes and a lower quality of life.

Breast and cervical cancer occur among groups with lower screening rates, which include older women, the uninsured, ethnic minorities (especially Latina/Hispanic women, African Americans and Asian Americans).

Low-income persons tend to be twice as likely to have diabetes than people earning a higher income. Diabetes rates are significantly higher among African American, Latino/Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Natives, and some sub-Asian Pacific Islander populations.

Additionally, children in low-income neighborhoods in King County are about three times more likely to be hospitalized with asthma than those in higher-income neighborhoods.

Obviously, health issues affect our whole well being, and social injustices, socio-economic conditions, war, and environmental devastation cause many of them.

This week Washington, like many other states, will become a temporary home to some of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Residents in the Rainier Valley are busy doing what many are doing across this country: sharing what they have to help another in need.

No one wants to experience a disaster, but devastation has a way of bringing out the best in people by reminding us of the really important things in life. The solution to ending health disparities is simple and affordable: people must value each others' lives, share their compassion, take care of one another, and come together to help each other when devastation breaks down our doors.

The Reverend Mary Diggs-Hobson of the AARTH Ministry may be reached via editor@sdistrictjournal.com.[[In-content Ad]]