Gulf Coast Justice Initiative
The Gulf Coast Initiative Today
Since 2006, the JWM Gulf Coast Justice Team has developed partnerships with local groups and UCC members in New Orleans to address issues related to health, including mental health, education, criminal justice and human rights. A visit to the Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, resulted in potential partnership with a Coalition of organizations and individuals called the Steps Coalition which is addressing concerns related to fair housing, affordable housing, juvenile justice, women's rights, human trafficking and environmental justice along the Gulf Coast.
Top issues in New Orleans include lack of affordable housing, juvenile justice, lack of opportunities for young people, mental health, and racism which disparately affects communities and persons of color in terms of recovery of homes and neighborhoods, schools, health, and employment.
The initial vision in 2006:
The United Church of Christ National Disaster Response, housed in Wider Church Ministries, was mobilized immediately following the devastating Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that hit the Gulf Coast in the fall of 2005. Recovery efforts to assist persons who were displaced and those who needed immediate attention as a result of this tragedy were supported through generous giving to the Hope Shall Bloom Fund. Hundreds of UCC members came to the Gulf Coast to gut, repair and restore homes and churches damaged by the storms. (This work continues. In May of 2009, Church World Service sponsored an ecumenical build as more neighborhoods slowly come back to life.)
News reports coming from New Orleans right after Katrina were especially disturbing because they clearly revealed that the systems of local, state, and national support had collapsed. Justice & Witness Ministries dispatched staff to assess what was going on in the Gulf Coast region. Traveling through Houston, New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulfport, staff assisted communities of faith, local officials, and individuals in need and surveyed the injustice that was apparent. A Gulf Coast Justice Initiative was recommended to the JWM Board of Directors to address the ongoing justice issues in the region. (See report from 2006-07 at: http://www.ucc.org/justice/gulf-coast-initiative/).