One of the most striking things about going to New Orleans two years after Katrina hit is how many people haven't come home.
Trips into neighborhoods like Gentilly and the Lower Ninth Ward show block after block of empty streets and vacant houses. Good estimates are hard to come by, but most people's best guess is that at least 40% of New Orleans residents haven't made it back.
So where are Katrina's displaced? Do they want to come home? If so, why haven't they?
Today, the Louisiana Family Recovery Corps released a report looking at these issues, based on a survey of displaced residents. The results are striking: most of those displaced by Katrina want to come back.
The report concluded that Louisiana citizens are currently living in more than 5,500 cities across the country with the largest concentrations in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and San Antonio. Of the residents surveyed, 60 percent indicated they want to come home, but do not have any specific plans or timeline for their return, 37 percent do not have any desire to come back and 20 percent still remain undecided.
If so many want to return to their home state -- even after two years of waiting -- what's stopping them? As it turns out, it's the same barriers that our Gulf Watch project has been documenting:
The majority of those who participated in the survey reported that moving costs along with finding available housing are the biggest challenges they face in deciding to return. Other factors residents consider in making their decision are available jobs, crime and levee safety.
As one of the leaders we interviewed during our trip to New Orleans last week pointed out, only the federal government has the resources to tackle the big issues like housing, jobs and levees -- in some cases, they are directly in charge.
But the overall story of the failed post-Katrina recovery is that Washington has failed to act, or made the wrong decisions -- such as President Bush's pledge last week to veto spending for coastal restoration, one of the best defenses New Orleans has against future storms.
For thousands of Gulf Coast families waiting to come home, the Katrina tragedy has to become more than an afterthought -- it has to become a top policy priority of our nation.
Every 2008 presidential candidate says they have a plan for Iraq -- who has a plan for the still-ravaged Gulf Coast?