Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Welcome to the Taj Mahal 

Via our percipient colleague Greenboy of Needlenose: As Barbara Bush the elder famously remarked on the subject of Katrina evacuees, "What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this" -- she chuckles slightly -- "this is working very well for them."

Babs, you didn't know the half of it:
It was bad enough when Hurricane Katrina chased Carrie Lewis out of her assisted-living home in New Orleans. Now she fears the rest of her life may be spent in the isolation of a federally sponsored trailer park.

Because hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed so much affordable housing, Lewis and thousands of others displaced — mainly the poor, elderly and infirm — have nowhere else to go . . . .

"Our biggest challenge is finding housing for people," said Mario "Sam" Sammartino, who supervises Catholic Services caseworkers at Louisiana's FEMA trailer parks. "What's left here is the poorest of the poor. Anyone with a job or a house has already left."

Sammartino and others working to resettle residents believe it will take at least five years to clear the FEMA parks. About 45,000 trailers are still occupied in Louisiana, 20,000 in Mississippi, 17,000 in Texas and 400 in Alabama.

Along with the isolation and cramped quarters in the trailers, now there are claims the trailers themselves are making people sick.

Reports of illness had trickled in to FEMA, but documents presented to Congress recently showed FEMA discouraged investigation of formaldehyde in its trailers. The chemical, commonly found in manufactured housing, can cause respiratory ailments and even cancer.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention workers began collecting samples last week from FEMA trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi . . . .

Those who remain in the trailers will start paying rent to FEMA in 2008, starting with a modest $50 a month and then rising.

"How are you going to pay if you don't have money," asked Sharon Norah, 50, who lives on disability assistance in a Renaissance Village trailer with her 9-year-old son, Calvin.

Renaissance Village, with 565 trailers about 100 miles northwest of New Orleans, is the Taj Mahal of FEMA parks, said Carol Spruell of Catholic Charities. Unlike some others, it has a basketball court, a tent for community activities, laundry rooms and a playground. Volunteer groups provide health care, mental health services and educational services.

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