Common Ground started with delivery of basic aid (food, water, and supplies) and an emergency clinic in Algiers. The effort expanded to providing assistance to homeowners and residents trying to move back into other areas of the city and region—such as the Lower Ninth Ward, St. Bernard Parish, and Houma—where flood-protection infrastructure failed after the hurricane.
Common Ground Health Clinic had its beginnings when four young street medics, arrived up in Algiers a few days after the hurricane. They began riding around on bicycles asking residents if they needed medical attention. Locals were surprised to be approached in this way, since no representatives of government agencies or of the Red Cross had appeared up to that point. The medics offered first aid, took blood pressure, tested for diabetes, and asked about symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other disease.
Common Ground began to coalesce when Malik Rahim offered shelter to the medics. Rahim and Austin organizer Scott Crow are credited with co-founding the Common Ground Collective. After forming as a more cohesive organization, Common Ground began recruiting volunteers to help gut homes and provide other free services in the Upper & Lower Ninth Wards. Common Ground utilized a large volunteer base across the Industrial Canal in the Upper 9th Ward of New Orleans in the St. Mary of the Angels school. Thousands of people volunteered for various lengths of time, creating an unusual social situation in the predominantly black neighborhoods, since most of the volunteers have been young white people from elsewhere. An ABC News Nightline report described the volunteers as "mostly young people filled with energy and idealism, and untainted by cynicism and despair, and mostly white, [who] have come from across America and from countries as far away as Indonesia." The health clinic was especially helpful to remaining residents of New Orleans immediately after the hurricane since Charity Hospital and other emergency care providers were not available.
Common Ground initiated a number of programs and projects following its inception in September 2005. Its organizing philosophy is dubbed "Solidarity Not Charity," reflecting the "it takes a village" philosophies of many of its members. Some of the projects that were free to residents included debris removal, aid distribution centers, roving medical clinics, bioremediation for toxic areas, house-gutting, roof-tarping, building neighborhood computer centers, free tech support for residents and other non-profits, stopping home demolitions in the Lower 9th Ward, supporting community and backyard gardens, anti-racist training for volunteers, tree service, and legal counseling services.
Common Ground can boast one of the most multidisciplinary of all teams. There are (categories not mutually exclusive) nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, pharmacists, anarchists, herbalists, acupuncturists, community organizers, journalists, legal representatives, aid workers, proletarian neighborhood members, EMT’s, squatters, gutter punks, artists, mechanics, chiropractors, clergy, and so forth involved. A huge sign outside the door reads, “Solidarity Not Charity” and this statement exemplifies the perspective of those involved.|200px|50px|James Chionsini, Common Ground volunteer|
In early 2006, Common Ground volunteers effected a clean-up of Martin Luther King Elementary School in the Lower 9th Ward. In the winter of 2007 Common Ground opened a family homeless shelter in the 7th ward of New Orleans which was closed a few months later.
In May 2006, Common Ground assumed management of the Woodlands Apartment Complex, a 350 unit complex of buildings initially to be purchased by Common Ground. Common Ground management froze the rents at the Woodlands to pre-Katrina levels, helped create a tenants union and ran a workers' cooperative with paid skills training. However, after 150 apartments were rehabilitated the owner, Anthony Reginelli reneged on the verbal agreement and sold the building to Johnson Properties Group LLC. More than 100 families were evicted from the property. Common Ground lost approximately $750,000 in payroll, landscaping, electrical, plumbing and carpentry expenditures.
Common Ground eventually split off into multiple independent organizations—Common Ground Relief, Common Ground Tech Collective, New Orleans Women's Shelter, Rubarb Bike Collective and the Common Ground Health Clinic. Thomas Pepper is the current operations director of Common Ground Relief. Common Ground Relief has centralized its operations in a group of houses in the Lower Ninth Ward. Its current relief work has scaled back to the short term hosting of out of town volunteer groups (around 50 volunteers). Current projects include wetlands restoration, bioremediation and community gardens, a free legal clinic, an advocacy center, a construction program, a lawn maintenance service and a media collective. Antor Ndep Ola is currently the Executive Director of Common Ground Health Clinic.