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Harry Connick talks to Senate about hurricane relief

Singer Harry Connick Jr. testifies before Senate on hurricane relief
Honorary chair of Habitat for Humanity’s Operation Home Delivery
urges government to right the wrongs and provide for affordable housing

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 6, 2005) – New Orleans native Harry Connick Jr. urged the government to involve local communities and provide the means to rebuild his hometown and the Gulf region in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee today.

“There are more than 300,000 families in the Gulf region that lost their homes and are waiting for peace of mind,” said Connick. “The hurricane exposed the sad reality of poverty in America. We saw, in all its horrific detail, the vulnerabilities of living in inadequate housing and the heartbreak of losing one’s home. There are many ways the government can help right these wrongs.”

Connick was invited to speak at the committee hearing on the Future of the Gulf Coast as a native of New Orleans and as honorary chair of Habitat for Humanity’s Operation Home Delivery, a three-part program to provide assistance and rebuilding opportunities in the aftermath of hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

The program will help Habitat affiliates restore some level of service following the disasters and serve as a catalyst with other organizations, governments, corporations, foundations, etc., to bring people together to ensure affordable housing and recovery on a scale Habitat alone is not able to provide.

With the support of volunteers across the United States and donors from around the world, Habitat’s Operation Home Delivery is also constructing house frames in communities throughout the country and shipping the components and other necessary construction materials to hurricane-affected areas in the Gulf region where families, volunteers and builders help rebuild the homes. A total of 65 houses were framed last week in New York, Los Angeles and Mississippi and transported to the Gulf region. Connick was on hand to help rebuild one of the first houses in Slidell, La., earlier this week.

“Working with Habitat for Humanity as the honorary chair of Operation Home Delivery provides me an avenue to channel this incredible sadness that has devoured my soul,” he said. “This program is getting people back into homes, back on their feet and on with their lives.”

Connick offered three suggestions to the committee to help the region rebuild in a positive and sustainable way. First, ensure that the people of the region are given priority in the rebuilding jobs and provided training to help them be effective and restore their dignity.

Second, involve the communities in the rebuilding decisions that will affect their lives. “It would only compound the suffering that has already gone on to see homes, parks, schools and all the other elements of the city rebuilt without the meaningful voice of its citizens at the table,” he said. And third, ensure the rebuilding effort includes enough lower cost homes and apartments for the tens of thousands of New Orleaneans with limited income who want to go home.

“The need for affordable housing in the Gulf Coast and New Orleans is tremendous. Even before the storms, much of the affected area already suffered from a lack of decent, affordable housing,” said Jonathan Reckford, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International. “Habitat is committed to working alongside the affected communities to help rebuild and restore their diversity and vibrancy. But a truly successful rebuilding effort will require government, corporations and nonprofit organizations working together to bring this region back to life.”

As honorary chair of Operation Home Delivery, Connick represents and speaks for the program and encourages citizens, organizations, churches, foundations, governments and others to get involved. In addition, Connick has been helping with the actual construction of some of the homes and recently completed a public service announcement for Habitat to help raise funds for the rebuilding effort.

“I come to you with hope,” he told the committee. “I have no doubt that the government of this great nation will work with its people to lead New Orleans and the Gulf Coast back to an enlightened, proud, safe part of the world. I implore you to make it right, to make us proud.”

For more information about Operation Home Delivery, people can visit Habitat’s Web site, www.habitat.org, where they can also sign up to receive more information or to volunteer – providing information about skills and experience – when conditions allow for volunteers to help rebuild. People can also donate to Habitat’s work in the Katrina-impacted areas on the Web site or by calling 1-800-422-4828.

Habitat for Humanity International, based in Americus, Ga., is an ecumenical Christian ministry that welcomes to its work all people dedicated to the cause of eliminating poverty housing. Since 1976, Habitat has built more than 200,000 houses in nearly 100 countries, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for more than one million people. For more information, visit www.habitat.org.