SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Two-time Pulitizer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof shed some light on the recent disasters in the Montecito, Santa Barbara and Ventura areas in front of hundreds of local citizens Monday night at UC Santa Barbara.
It was part of a day of sessions and interaction with community members about the catastrophe this area just went through and what Kristof has seen around the world. The talks went into ways to build a resilient community.
The events were coordinated by UC Santa Barbara Arts and Lectures. Kristof writes for the New York Times.
Earlier in the day Kristof held a session in the Santa Barbara Library Faulkner Gallery with groups including Direct Relief, Vitamin Angels, and SEE International to discuss work those organizations are doing around the world t help those who have suffered from natural or political disasters. He was very impressed with the number of local organizations that are reaching out to solve world issues from their Central Coast headquarters.
Kristof spoke in Campbell Hall about his experiences in disaster zones in the U.S. and in other countries and how different areas try to rebuild or come back not just as a community but in personal lives.
"There is a study from Hurricane Katrina that gives us some more robust evidence," he said. "One of the measures of adaptability and resilience is the extent that people have social capital. In some cases it is family or in some countries it is a klan a network of friends or civic organizations."
Kristof said he was aware that Montecito is more than just a wealthy enclave and had many people renting, living in family homes that were handed down, or were middle class citizen in what was often called a glamorized and exclusive area. The levels of income and types of residents impacts have now been revealed which is helping political and community leaders create the rebuilding plans.
He also spoke of the mental impacts. "I think what we are learning is really critical even when there is no great stresser and when there is a stresser it is critical an that could be a mudslide or hurricane but it could also be someone losing their job or getting behind on their mortgage and losing their home. This is just so devastating to families. Those who can relay on people can come out so much better."
Not everyone has the means themselves however or beyond that, the means to find help.
"And if you look at family break down in surveys right now in polls," he said about the new data, a question is asked he said "how many people do you have and that you can really turn to in a crisis?" Kristof says the answer is stunning. "The most common single answer is zero."
He said the public does better when there is a purpose and, "stress and trauma are toxic."
Besides community help there are other levels of assistance that will help those in crisis rebound. "And some people who have a larger purpose or a larger connection and in some cases it could be a religious faith or it could be something larger than yourself that you are devoted to and social capital," he said that could be a benefit others do not have. But Kristof pointed out that these kinds of connections seem to be declining.
"We tend to use metrics of income or assets and there's some evidence that losing a job is more of a blow to people than losing income and psychologically it is devastating and it leads to self medication," said Kristof.
There's also a newer phenomenon of social poverty. "We are social animals and we are often to be disconnected to others and Facebook turns out to not be a substitute for others!"
The UCSB turnout was about 300 people in a room filled with those personally touched by the recent disasters. Among those to speak were front line workers including Office of Emergency Management Director Rob Lewin, Abe Power and Tom Cole from the Bucket Brigade, and Ben Romo who is assisting community members in their recovery on all levels in a special center that just opened in Montecito.
Some members of the audience also spoke including one woman who said she would never go back to her home in the Bonneymeade community off Olive Mill after this event and needed housing help. Romo said he would meet with her after the speech and provide help.
Kristof stayed after the speech to talk to those who attended and guests.