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Community Impact Series - CARE

By Ian McNulty

New Orleans, LA – Community IMPACT Series: Plaquemines Community C.A.R.E. Center, Aug. 3, 2010

The indelible images of the oil disaster in the Gulf thus far have been revoltingly dramatic, like the stricken Deepwater Horizon rig consumed by fire, like the seabirds coated in crude or like the once-pristine beaches slathered in oil. But some impacts from this disaster are harder to spot, more private and concealed, though still devastating for the people dealing with them.

"The main issue, at this point, is we're seeing domestic violence going up," says Monica Dubey, executive director of the Plaquemines Community C.A.R.E. Center.

This nonprofit provides an array of counseling, therapy and education services to people in Plaquemines Parish, which stretches from the outer suburbs of New Orleans down both banks of the Mississippi river to its outlet at the Gulf. The parish is home to some of the most productive commercial fisheries in the world, which have sustained countless families over many generations. That's why the prolonged fishing closures in response to the oil disaster have had such a dire impact on people here.

Rising reports of domestic violence are one indication of this stress, Dubey says, and in recent months the number of arrests for these crimes in the parish have more than doubled. If past experience is any guide, she says, that increase may be a warning that much more will soon come to light.

"Usually you're not going to capture the full impact until school starts. That's when you're going to start identifying what's going on with the children and once you see the children you start to assess what's going on with the family," says Dubey. "We saw it after Katrina, I'm pretty sure we're going to see it again. It's just the pattern and the nature."

The Plaquemines Community C.A.R.E. Center has been ramping up its services to meet the challenge. The group functions as a hub for mental health services in Plaquemines Parish, working closely with the local school system, the criminal justice system and social services providers. It also coordinates the work of outside agencies now bringing their own services to the community. The needs they encounter here are uncommonly complex, addled by the cumulative rage and despair of the still-raw Katrina experience and this new hardship from the oil disaster. So Dubey says service providers must take a comprehensive approach and commit to building long-term support within the community.

"It's the fact that after Katrina, even though everything was wiped out, they lost their homes, they were able to cope with Katrina by going back to what they know: their fishing. That was their coping mechanism," she says. "What we're seeing is, they're kind of waking up to the fact that I'm really angry for losing my home, now I'm really angry because I'm losing my living, my way of life. My bread, the way I feed my family.

"For them to go and ask for food vouchers is demeaning. But they have no choice.
So one of the focus that we want to make sure, as the permanent mental health of Plaquemines, working together with other entities, Plaquemines stakeholders, is to raise the morale, and to let them know hey look, we're here. We're moving down the road. We are you. You don't have to feel bad. We all in the same boat. It's okay.'"

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