Oxfam America Strengthens Support for Gulf Coast Organizations

By Oxfam

BOSTON – Oxfam America today announced a $7.1 million investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to strengthen its support for local organizations advocating for affordable housing and workers’ rights in the Gulf Coast region. Since the hurricanes of 2005, Oxfam has built upon its 15-year history of community-oriented grantmaking in the United States by partnering with local organizations in Louisiana and Mississippi to help some of the most vulnerable coastal residents with their recovery.

These funds will be used over a three-year period to provide support, technical assistance, and information to organizations working to ensure affordable housing is available for those who have been displaced and to protect workers’ rights for those participating in the rebuilding effort, including many migrant, minority, and low-income laborers. A significant portion of the funds will be distributed to local organizations to strengthen their advocacy and service efforts on behalf of Gulf Coast residents.

“Residents in these coastal regions need more help to get their lives back on track,” said Joseph Williams, president of the board of the Steps Coalition, a group of 45 nonprofit organizations advocating for affordable housing, community preservation, human rights, economic and environmental justice, and an equitable recovery for residents and communities in southern Mississippi. "A deeper partnership with Oxfam will help us to more effectively monitor reconstruction and strengthen commitments by state and regional leaders to help all residents—especially those in at-risk communities—on the road to recovery.”

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Hurricanes Katrina and Rita severely damaged or destroyed nearly 300,000 residences on the Gulf Coast, leaving nearly one million people without the homes they need to resume their normal daily lives. While the storms were indiscriminate, assistance has not been. Those who most need assistance to rebuild or start over, including low-income renters and homeowners, have been largely bypassed by the housing aid flowing into the region. In addition, the estimated tens of thousands of low-wage, mostly immigrant workers who are vital to the region’s rebuilding efforts have endured widespread abuse, including unacceptable living conditions, unpaid wages, and dangerous work environments.

“During the past year and a half, we have seen how many of the Gulf Coast’s neediest residents have been denied the resources they need to rebuild their lives—and how the low-wage workers who are making the rebuilding effort possible have been exploited,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Oxfam is proud to support the local community leaders who are pushing hard to change this, and to help reach the many people who are still not being served.”

Since the 2005 storms, Oxfam’s work has reached several dozen Gulf Coast organizations in both Louisiana and Mississippi. Beginning with the provision of emergency grants to local partners to distribute relief goods, Oxfam has moved to address long-term needs for community recovery, including support for new coalitions that have formed in both states to advocate for the most vulnerable groups. Oxfam worked with leaders in Biloxi, Mississippi to establish a critical coordination center in a low-income section of the city and helped fund a local organizer for a statewide immigrant rights group that has recovered more than $1 million in unpaid wages. In Louisiana, Oxfam reached out to coastal communities outside New Orleans to ensure their needs would not be forgotten. Oxfam’s support for local organizations has enabled thousands of families in coastal areas across the region to begin rebuilding and repairing their homes and to access essential government assistance.

However, a tremendous need for public resources continues. Some recovery funds in Mississippi have not yet been allocated or distributed, and Louisiana is now facing a potential $3 billion shortfall in the $7.5 billion allocated for The Road Home—the state’s housing recovery program. Effective advocacy will help ensure these monies address critical needs such as affordable rental housing and assistance for the lowest income homeowners without insurance.

“Inequities that existed before the devastating hurricanes of 2005 have become even more pronounced and new ones have arisen,” said Hilary Pennington, director of Special Initiatives for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “This investment, although outside the scope of our usual giving, reflects the enormity of the crisis and our desire to support local organizations so they can grow in expertise and influence.”

Since 2005, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided support for the region’s recovery efforts, including investments to support displaced students affected by the hurricanes, help refurbish and rebuild libraries along the Gulf Coast, and support recovery activities in New Orleans.

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