There’s a Shelter Coming Near You

Thanks to the many people who have reached out to us–it has been so satisfying.

There have been many incredible acts of generosity and courage. We saw them everywhere. We were picked up at the hospital by two 25-year-old guys who put a little motor on a rowboat and ferried people to safety. We got on a truck with people who had gone back to find their mentally disabled brother. Families have come to look for family members in the shelters.

Now that we are out of New Orleans, we are so disappointed with the disproportionate attention paid to looters and to a few hundred people who were acting criminally. Nobody in Louisiana thinks that people are looters if they broke into stores for diapers or food. People stealing TVs or shooting others made up a fraction of a percent of the people in New Orleans, but looting seems to have attracted attention in the media out of all proportion.

The distorted emphasis on criminal behavior has stigmatized the people who are now in shelters. Events this week exposed racial, economic, and geographic segregation in our society that includes inequality in planning and resources. People need to stick up for the folks in the shelters. I guarantee there’s a shelter coming to a city near you. There are not enough places here for all these people. The New Orleans community is like a glass paperweight that was smashed by a fifty pound iron mallet. Poor people from New Orleans are going to be everywhere. People need to help them, not fear them. Our question should not be, “Why was there looting,” but “How are your families?” and “How can we help?”

There are a million stories of inspiration, love, hope, affection and community from New Orleans. The focus should be on the 99-1/2 percent of people who were brave and patient and who managed to help others.

We are glad that so many people are reaching out to the very poor people of New Orleans. Many people are not even a paycheck away from poverty. We know schoolteachers whose entire life savings was invested in their home, which is now underwater. They have $200 in their pockets, and they’re living in a shelter along with their extended family, hoping to get food stamps. Many people have much less. All of them have no idea what will happen to the lives and work and homes they left behind.

The 100,000 or so people who were left behind in New Orleans are a reflection of the people who are left behind in our country and in the world. We need to turn this disaster into an opportunity for the nation to reevaluate our priorities and invest in construction, both here and in the rest of the world. Thank God there is no one to bomb in retaliation. Instead of wasting our resources on destruction, we should rededicate our people, resources and creativity to addressing the fundamental problems that were exposed when the superficial covering of New Orleans was ripped away, leaving us struggling for survival as people do in so many other countries.

We love you, and we appreciate the support that has come in to us in so many ways.

Debbie Dupre Quigley is an oncology nurse. She and her husband Bill Quigley, who is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, spent four nights and five days in a hospital in New Orleans before they were evacuated. They can be reached at