Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 18, 2007

(Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a two part series looking at residents in the FEMA trailer parks, who are being evicted by next year, and their stories of why they are still there, and what their future holds.)


Staff Reporter

EDGARD- Edgard is the destination at the end of Veteran’s bridge off State Highway 3213, popularly called “The Bridge to Nowhere” after the textile mill it was built for in the 1990’s decided not to build in Edgard.

Alongside the Mississippi River and Highway 18, Edgard shows the signs of an impoverished region. The isolated West Bank community is pocked with deteriorating homes unsteady on their brick pilings with rusted tin roofs that were damaged by high winds.

Part of the damage is undoubtedly due to the age of the homes, which were, in most cases, little more than shacks at their greatest. Now, as seen from the highway, one can imagine they will be neither fixed nor demolished. A few of the most damaged buildings have finally succumbed to gravity and have fallen in their places, their materials left to be reclaimed by the underbrush.

A stark contrast to its surroundings, the FEMA-run Alvin Perret mobile home park is a cleared and fenced off area consisting of four rows of pristine-white mobile home units separated by two gray pebble roads. Once there were over 77 displaced households living in trailers on this parcel of land. Now they are down to

(See PARK, page 2A)

half-capacity and more residents are finding permanent housing every day.

With FEMA’s announcement that everyone will have to be gone by March 31, 2008, some residents are speeding up the process, like Melvin and Rose Anderson, who lost almost everything when their St. Bernard home was destroyed in the storm.

“The only thing that was savable was the cross on the wall,” said Melvin. “It is hard you know, but the good Lord do everything for the best.”

Rose is disabled after having a stroke a number of years ago. After the storm she stayed with family in Texas while Melvin worked in a warehouse. They have lived on the FEMA site for over a year since Melvin was injured after a forklift ran over his leg, and only signed a lease the day after the closure announcement was made.

“On this street,” Rose gestures towards the gravel road running between the trailers, “was all my family. I had two sons and three daughters that used to live down this side. Most of us that are in here used to live close to each other in the parish (St. Bernard). There were very few people we didn’t know.”

Now, after moving out of the park, the rest of the Anderson family is spread over the South, in Atlanta, Texas and parts of Northern Louisiana. The Andersons are returning to St. Bernard Parish to a rental home not far from their former residence.

They hope to be in their new home by Christmas this year. They said FEMA has been very helpful in their transition.

The Anderson’s are atypical residents at the park.

In fact, most residents were not aware the park would be closed- such as Willard Pijaux.

“I thought we were staying until 2009,” Pijaux said.

For Pijaux, Katrina was just the beginning of his problems. Shortly after the storm he was in a motorcycle accident and lapsed into a coma for three and a half months.

“When I woke up I didn’t even know I had a wife. I asked: Who are these people?” said Pijaux. “I had to start a new life.”

In addition to a faulty memory, he suffers from seizures and double vision as an after effect of the accident.

“I can’t work,” said Pijaux. “I can’t stay home alone now. I can’t even lock the door when I go to the bathroom because I may have a seizure.”

Although it is hard for him to remember, he estimates he has been living with his wife, daughter and granddaughter in their FEMA trailer for two years.

In some ways Pijaux can be considered lucky. His wife and daughter were both able to find work in a school nearby, and are able to more than take care of the family as evidenced by the large screen television taking up a large portion of their living room.

However, they do have a large problem shared by many of the park’s residents affiliated with the school. The park closes March 31, yet school does not end until May 22.

Single Mother Robin Kendrick is worried her three daughters will have to transfer to a new school before the end of the year, which would make their fifth new school since the storm.

Before the storm she owned a home and was married. In the more than two years since the storm, she has lost her house and husband. She does not fit the requirements for HUD based program that would gradually ease the burden of rent and is finding it difficult to come up with her deposit and the first month rent required of her.

Kendrick also thought she would be able to stay in the trailer until 2009.

“A lot of people said Alvin Perret was supposed to buy the trailers and rent them out, but he has passed away now,” she said. “I have no idea what I am doing at this point.”

Before the storm she called New Orleans home, but now she does not want to go back.

She cites the rise in cost of living and violence as a deterrent.

“It is country bumpkin out here, but I love it. You can leave your keys in your car. You can leave your door open. This is a good area.”

“They are just saying be somewhere, anywhere, they don’t care,” she says of FEMA. “Have you ever thought about it as a financial thing or that we won’t just settle on moving anywhere?”

Recently she has been experiencing maintenance problems with her trailer.

A month ago one of her kitchen cabinets fell off the wall when she was gone.

“There was glass everywhere. It was like someone broke in,” Kendrick said. “When I called them they said that was considered furniture. FEMA said they weren’t responsible… I’m telling the lady, lizards and mosquitoes are coming up out of the hole in the wall.”

A maintenance man did come, but instead of putting the cabinet back on the wall he only covered the hole with plywood.

Despite her problems, however, Kendrick is optimistic in the end.

“God will work it out,” she says.

In the meantime FEMA representative Mike Wiener said flyers were posted at the end of November alerting the residents that the parks would close March 31, 2008 and that FEMA also relied on the media to get the message to trailer occupants.

“We are doing our best to assist families to locate permanent housing,” Wiener said. “Bottom line we are not going to kick anyone out onto the street.”

Wiener said FEMA has been networking with numerous non-profit and faith based organizations in their effort to find sustainable housing for park residents, including housing for those that do not qualify for the HUD program and in dwellings in the area that will allow children to stay in school.

“Certainly if they move to another part of the state it will be difficult for them,” said Wiener.

It is apparent FEMA can only offer help in finding available rentals. They cannot make more rentals become available, nor can they force FEMA trailer residents to utilize their programs.

In the end only one thing is certain, the park will close March 31 and the residents do have to be gone.

FEMA trailer residents seeking permanent housing can call the Disaster Housing Assistance Program referral line at 1-866-373-9509 for help.