Warehousing a Problem

Too many pundits, including some conservatives, think using mothballed military bases to house New Orleans refugees is a clever, pragmatic idea. It is not. Granted, housing displaced people on bases costs taxpayers less than putting them up at the Ritz, and maybe even less than a Motel 6. This economy appeals to a conservative’s sense of thrift, but the hidden costs are potentially huge.

As displaced people with skills or relatives in non-devastated areas continue to melt away, the population that remains looks more like a problem. With a worsening ratio of criminals, drug addicts, and big consumers of social services, the whole “adopt a family” message becomes a tougher sell. Does your community want fifty people who preyed on innocents in the Superdome? Okay, how about a dozen that loot consumer electronics when the power’s off?

Pretending to solve this suddenly intractable problem by rolling Greyhounds “temporarily” to this or that base would deliver the media a second, perhaps even more damaging propaganda coup. CNN wouldn’t even have to tell them to “get angry” for the cameras. We don’t need our own Palestinian problem and we don’t need army bases to burn baby burn.

Newly-appointed FEMA director R. David Paulison wasted no time taking a position on warehousing: "We’re going to get those people out of the shelters, and we’re going to move and get them the help they need." Good idea. I hope he has the political backing to follow through.