Escaping the VAYLA offices for a cigarette, the young man talks about his community. There are no good restaurants. Just a few fast food joints. There is a charity clinic but the nearest hospital is 35 minutes away. There were more businesses before Hurricane Katrina. It’s August, the start of storm season, and he’s worried that another storm would wipe the place out. The levees on this side of town have only seen minimal repairs while the ones in wealthier Metarie have been raised five feet.
Geologists say that the ground in New Orleans East is sinking at about two inches per year. Four years after Katrina, many of the houses here still bear the government’s spray painted X’s with the date the houses were searched, along with the number of animals and people found. Nguyen loves Versailles— this is home—but he’s decided to move to Virginia after Christmas to be somewhere a little quieter, somewhere where he can study for the G.E.D. test without distractions and work toward buying his first car.
“Being out there in the world, without my friends, is scary,” he says.