NO WAY TO TREAT OUR PEOPLE

:
FEMA Trailer Residents 30 Months after Katrina

Page 1

No Way to Treat Our People

TABLE OF CONTENTS

MISSION AND PURPOSE………………………….………………………………………………………………………….2 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS……………………………….………………………………………………………………………3 FOREWORD…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….4 PART I. BACKGROUND ON FEMA TRAILERS IN LOUISIANA……………..5
INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..5 2008 LOUISIANA JUSTICE INSTITUTE FEMA TRAILER OUTREACH PROJECT……….7

PART II. CRISIS ON THE GULF COAST: HOUSING AND HEALTH ..8
NEED FOR REPLACEMENT HOUSING………..…………………………………………………………………………………….9

NEED FOR HEALTH CARE…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..12

A Lack of Resources………………..…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….9 A Lack of Affordablility….…..……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….11 The Deteriorating Mental Health of Trailer Residents………………………………………………………………..12

The Deteriorating Physical Health of Trailer Residents….…………………………………………………….14

PART III. STORIES FROM FEMA TRAILER PARK RESIDENTS………....15
RENAISSANCE VILLAGE TRAILER PARK — SEPARATE AND NOT EQUAL — FEMA’s Dirty Secret in Baker, Louisiana…………………………………………………………………………………...15 Segregation for Disabled Residents in Port Allen, Louisiana……………………………..……………………….21

ROAD TO NOWHERE —

Stories from Port Allen, Louisiana………………………………………………….………………………………………………….23
Tens of Thousands of Homeowners Still in Trailers……..…………………………………………………………….25

Stories from Homeowners Living in FEMA Trailers in New Orleans………………………………………25

PART IV. CALL TO ACTION FOR FEMA TRAILER RESIDENTS…..….27

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 2

MISSION AND PURPOSE
The Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI) is a non-profit legal advocacy organization devoted to fostering social justice campaigns across the state of Louisiana. LJI understands that as a local civil rights organization, it can and must serve as an agent for social change. The creation of LJI was responsive to a specific and urgent need to resurrect capacity for statewide, systemic, legal advocacy on behalf of impoverished communities and communities of color. LJI believes a community shared vision for social justice, combined with the opportunity and resolve to bring lasting change, will produce genuine, equitable recovery in Louisiana.

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) is a non-profit advocacy organization that has worked relentlessly for 35 years to ensure a level playing field for all children. CDF work’s with individuals, communities, and policy makers to enact, fund, and implement public policy and promote successful programs that life children out of poverty, protect them from abuse and neglect, ensure access to health care and quality education, and provide a moral and spiritual foundation to help children succeed with the support of caring adults and communities.

Page 3

No Way to Treat Our People

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The housing crisis along the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is a national tragedy. With thousands of families facing uncertain futures for long-term habitation needs, we advocates faced the daunting task of documenting this problem. Fortunately, Louisiana Justice Institute has developed a tremendous relationship with the organizers of the Student Hurricane Network, and it was with the assistance of scores of students from law schools across the country that LJI and Children’s Defense Fund were able to compile the data for this report. The law student volunteers that assisted LJI with this project were from the following schools: American University Washington College of Law, Howard University, Fordham Law, Brooklyn Law School, University of Nebraska College of Law, University of Texas School of Law, University of Oklahoma College of Law, Cardozo School of Law, Washburn University School of Law, and the Northern Illinois University College of Law. In addition, we must acknowledge the advocacy of our many friends and partners on the

ground along the Gulf Coast, who are working to alleviate the suffering and continued
victimization of FEMA trailer residents.

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 4

FOREWORD

Nothing could prepare us for the sight of children running through the Baker, Louisiana FEMA trailer encampment during the middle of the school day. Where are the parents? Why aren’t these children in school? More importantly, why are all these families still here 2 1/2 years after Katrina? There really is only one answer to all three of these questions — our government has created several communities of disposable people post-hurricanes Katrina and Rita. These communities hold individuals who have no guaranteed right to return to their homes — notwithstanding all the international conventions and treaties calling for same. We have created in Louisiana “Katrina Tribes,” comprised of individuals without permanent homes, subject to dislocation through relocation at the governments’ will. No Way to Treat Our People serves as a Call to Action. It is an indictment of our failed response efforts to this disaster, and provides an opportunity for those willing to listen, to hear the voices of those left behind in FEMA trailers. But we must leave these victims with more than the tourist-bus-operator recounting of their suffering. So No Way to Treat Our People proposes a collective response and call for funding redress that makes our people whole.

Page 5

No Way to Treat Our People

PART I. BACKGROUND ON FEMA TRAILERS IN LOUISIANA
Introduction The recovery process following the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita has been varied, with numerous successes and failures. Although the national attention has shifted from the Gulf Coast, many of its residents continue to struggle to rebuild their lives and return to a stable living situation. Two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, approximately 100,000 residents of the Gulf Coast still find themselves housed in trailers provided to them by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. FEMA trailers first began arriving in the hurricane-damaged Gulf South in early October of 2005. Although FEMA quickly distributed some trailers to certain families, there were widespread reports of delays in trailer delivery, and many news agencies noted thousands of families remained without a housing option while FEMA trailers were stored in mass quantities throughout the affected region without being put to use. FEMA established numerous options for individuals in need of temporary housing. Homeowners unable to move back into their homes could place their FEMA trailers on property they owned. Others could take residence in a trailer situated in a FEMA trailer park located on land that was either publicly owned or rented by a governmental agency. Still other residents, both homeowners and renters, could receive trailers and place same on the land of neighbors, friends or relatives. 1 Although the plan FEMA presented to address housing had the potential to reach residents of all demographics, a significant number of residents and their families were unable to access the resources FEMA provided. Homeowners in neighborhoods or towns in which basic infrastructure (e.g., electricity and sewage) was not quickly reestablished were denied requests for FEMA trailers. This included all of the Lower 9th Ward, where electricity was not reestablished until summer of 2006.2 Additionally, individuals who were unable to demonstrate independent residence in hurricane-affected zones at the time of the storms were deemed ineligible for FEMA assistance. The uniquely Southern style of extended family residence did not fit into the cookie cutter family molds FEMA expected, resulting in families being split

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 6

apart and denied assistance on a large scale basis.3

Moreover, as domestic violence increased

due to family stresses during and post-flood water recession, even abused spouses faced difficulty getting independent assistance and many stayed to face the violence rather than face homelessness. In early 2006, FEMA trailer residents began to report health problems such as rashes, itchy eyes and difficulty breathing. Some independent groups, such as the Sierra Club, began preliminary testing of the indoor air of the FEMA trailers and found high levels of formaldehyde present.4 Groups of trailer residents began lobbying FEMA to do something about the potential health risk they were facing and at least conduct testing of individual trailers.5 However, it was not until the summer of 2007, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised FEMA the levels of formaldehyde in trailers were too high and might pose a threat to the health of occupants, that FEMA moved to temporarily suspend deployment and sale of travel trailers and park model recreational vehicles.6 By early 2007 many parishes in Louisiana began to enforce new or preexisting local ordinances that prohibited locating a trailer on residential streets. In January of 2007 Jefferson Parish set a March 31, 2007 deadline for the removal of trailers from private property.7 The St. Tammany Parish deadline was originally set for March but extended to June 2007.8 Kenner, Louisiana moved extended its deadline through May 2008.9 Nevertheless, thousands of trailer residents have been and continue to be evicted through these city and parish-based ordinances. Residents in trailer parks did not fare better. Pressure from homeowners and local businesses forced many parish governments to shut-down trailer sites. Instead of facing evictions, many thousands of residents had their trailers moved from one trailer park site to another, often multiple times, disrupting schooling for children, healthcare and jobs. In November of 2007 FEMA began issuing large numbers of eviction notices to residents living in FEMA trailer parks throughout the Gulf Coast.10 FEMA would begin to stagger closures between the months of November 2007 and May 2008.11 By January 2008, over half of the trailer parks in New Orleans had already been closed.

Page 7

No Way to Treat Our People

On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2008, FEMA publically acknowledged the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which study revealed unacceptably high levels of formaldehyde in FEMA trailers.12 The CDC recommended all residents be moved from trailers by June 2008 when the formaldehyde levels would peak with the summer heat. 2008 Louisiana Justice Institute FEMA Trailer Outreach Project FEMA trailer residents are extremely vulnerable. Those residents still living in trailers do not have the resources to move into a more permanent situation, either because of a lack of resources to rebuild their homes or finding an alternate living situation. Homeowners are either waiting on insurance or Road Home program money or else have not been able to acquire sufficient funds to being their rebuilding. Additionally, public and affordable housing options have significantly decreased since the storms due to both a sharp rise in rental prices and also the approval of the demolition of New Orleans’s public housing facilities. Considering these circumstances, in early January of 2008, LJI coordinated an interview and outreach project aimed at FEMA trailer residents across Louisiana. This project was intended to build upon information gathered through previous survey projects13 and research by CDF on the status of children living in FEMA trailer parks. LJI and CDF focused on providing residents with information on local housing, medical, and legal resources. With the help of law student volunteers from across the country, we conducted outreach to over 500 residents and interviewed over 150 families. The data provided in this report comes entirely from the interviews conducted in January—February 2008. The law schools volunteers were each equipped with and distributed the Louisiana Justice Institute Local Resource Guide (the Guide), which contains contact information for organizations and programs that provide indispensible services to individuals traversing the recovery and rebuild process. The volunteers interviewed and surveyed the FEMA trailer occupants to gauge problems and, in many instances actually assisted the residents in making contact and with follow-up services for support, especially for the elderly and/or disabled residents who found maneuvering the relief bureaucracy nearly impossible.

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 8

PART II. CRISIS ON THE GULF COAST: HOUSING AND HEALTH
Those residents of Louisiana and the Gulf South who continue to find themselves housed in FEMA trailers are in a dire living situation. Over the past two and a half years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, these individuals and families have been unable to move themselves to a more permanent and adequate housing situation for a number of reasons. Some are homeowners who have been unable to return their homes to a livable condition or rebuild on their property to replace their lost lodgings. Others are former public housing residents or renters who have been unable to locate a permanent living situation which they can afford. Additionally, other factors prevent trailer residents from moving from the trailers even if they had a place to go. The habitation of FEMA trailers has become a severe crisis. In November 2007 FEMA announced it would stagger closures of its trailer parks until May 2008. For many residents still living in trailers in parks, this meant they had no choice but to leave their trailer once the time of park closure came, regardless of whether they had any other place to go. This is a drastic situation considering the fact 55% of FEMA trailer residents surveyed reported they had no alternative housing and expected to be homeless if removed from their trailers. Meanwhile, only 1/6 of residents reported they have received an actual eviction notice from FEMA. This crisis worsened in early February of 2008 when FEMA acknowledged the formaldehyde in its trailers were at levels which were extremely harmful. The push to remove occupants from trailers gained strength, while residents’ anxiety about their futures rose. What follows is a summary of the responses provided by surveyed residents concerning what factors have prevented them from moving to permanent housing.

Page 9

No Way to Treat Our People

NEED FOR REPLACEMENT HOUSING

A Lack of Resources
Following the damage done by the 2005 hurricanes, it quickly became apparent that those homeowners who lacked significant personal resources would have a difficult time repairing their homes. While 80% of the FEMA trailer residents who were former homeowners responded they had homeowners insurance, only 54% had flood insurance, which made the possibility of presenting a successful claim for a water-damaged home extremely difficult. In addition, the money homeowners received from insurance claims was often insufficient to cover the costs of returning their homes to condition adequate for human habitation. Due to the insufficient funds available to many homeowners, a number of governmental agencies began to distribute money to facilitate the repair and rebuilding of homes, the most significant being the Road Home Program in Louisiana.14 Although these funds have allowed some displaced residents to return their homes to a condition which allows their occupation, the monies distributed by various governmental agencies have clearly failed many residents in their efforts to return their lives to a semblance of the normality of pre-Katrina life. A mere 6% of FEMA trailer residents reported receiving money from the Louisiana Recovery Authority, while approximately 1/3 reported receiving money from FEMA for home repairs. The state of Louisiana created the Road Home Program to give Louisiana homeowners a number of options when deciding how they wished to respond to the state of their hurricane-damaged house. Many residents view the Road Home Program as the solution to their present living situation. Unfortunately, the Road Home Program is rife with problems.15 Many homeowners complain of delays in the process and the difficulty of dealing with the bureaucracy of the program.16 Although nearly 90% of the respondent homeowners presently
100 80 60 40 20 0 Number of Homeow ners Applicants to the Road Home Program Received Road Home Money 86 Road Hom e Money

76 48

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 10

living in FEMA trailers applied for Road Home funds, only slightly more than half of these homeowners have actually received anything. Of those residents who have received money, approximately 20% complain that the money has been insufficient to adequately repair their home. Fifty-six percent of FEMA trailer residents owned their homes or lived with a homeowner at the time of the storm. Although more than one third of FEMA trailer occupants say that they have undertaken some form of repairs on their homes, a mere 1 in 11 of homeowners say that the repairs are complete. The typical homeowner cited many resources they will need in order to prepare themselves for leaving their trailer. The vast majority said they need more money so that they will be able to complete the repairs on their homes; approximately 10%
Resourced Needed by Homeowners Road Home Program money; to Leave their Trailer

specifically

requesting

Legal Assistance Money Employment/ Finding Employment Locating Affordable Housing Contractors Transportation

12% needing legal assistance to help manage successions and maneuver the bureaucracy of various programs; and almost all desiring the most precious commodity, i.e., time to complete repairs without having to pay for temporary housing.
11%

4%

1% 4% 12%

9% 5% 54%

Furniture Time

Other factors have prevented homeowners from rebuilding and repairing. Contractor fraud is a frequent occurrence, and many residents have lost significant portions of their rebuilding resources to contractors. Additionally, many homeowners complain that contractors do poor work, requiring homeowners to pay for additional hours to repair the poor work, or hire new contractors to redo the repairs. An astonishing 60% of the survey respondents state they are unhappy with the work performed by their contractors. The City of New Orleans’ demolition of houses is also preventing certain families from returning to their homes. The

Page 11

No Way to Treat Our People

demolition campaign undertaken by the city has been poorly organized and left many families, some who even had received Road Home money, returning to empty lots.

A Lack of Affordability
Many markets have changed in Louisiana following the 2005 hurricanes. One of the most notable is the housing market: prices skyrocketed following the storms. Now, families and individuals who prior to the storm were able to support themselves renting are now forced to rely on publicly subsidized housing. Unfortunately, publicly subsidized housing is also rare in post-Katrina Louisiana. On December
6% 2% 9% 1% 32% 26% 9%

Resources Needed by Former Renters to Move out of Trailer

Legal Assistance Money Employment/ Finding Employment Locating Affordable Housing Contractors Transportation Furniture

20, 2007, the New Orleans City Council approved the demolition of four large public housing developments, which had been closed since Hurricane Katrina and made

15%

Medical Assistance

the subject of resident lead litigation. Not only are low income residents now unable to locate affordable housing, but public housing is no longer a viable option for most. The crisis for FEMA trailer residents deepens as a result of this lack of affordable rental housing because they will need an alternative housing option upon being forced from their trailers. Twenty-six percent of former renters reported they need assistance locating affordable housing in order to move from their trailers. Another 24% reported they do not have sufficient resources to move from the trailers. A desperate situation is arising for these residents as they face the certainty of eviction. A number of programs do exist to aid FEMA trailer residents and displaced residents move to a more permanent living situation. Nonetheless, most residents do not know of the existence of these programs, or are unable to deal with the bureaucracy.

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 12

In addition to affordable housing, nearly 20% of former renters living in FEMA trailers noted that it was the poor economic situation which was preventing them from attaining a more permanent living situation. These residents stated that factors such as inability to earn rent money and afford the high cost of utilities made the option of leaving their trailer for a more permanent living situation an impossibility. New Orleans is suffering from an acute shortage of housing that has nearly doubled the cost of rental units in the city. This shortage threatens recovery for the entire region, and makes living in New Orleans nearly impossible for residents who decided to return against the odds.17 Before the storm, more than half of the city’s population rented housing. Government attention to this rental crisis has not yet been seen or felt by any of the trailer residents surveyed for this report. NEED FOR HEALTH CARE

The Deteriorating Mental Health of Trailer Residents
Life in a FEMA trailer is extremely trying for most residents. After two and a half years of being displaced from their homes and exiled from the life they knew prior to the storms, nearly all residents reported suffering from depression. This finding is consistent with the most comprehensive survey conducted of people affected by Hurricane Katrina. Presented to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Ad hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery, the study found the percentage of pre-hurricane residents of the affected areas in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi who have mental disorders has increased significantly compared to the situation five to eight months after the hurricane. The director of the study, Dr. Ronald Kessler, Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, noted the big surprise, which is that Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which typically goes away in a year for most disaster survivors, has increased: 21% have the symptoms vs. 16% in 2006. Common symptoms include the inability to stop thinking

Page 13

No Way to Treat Our People

about the hurricane, nightmares and emotional numbness. On the other hand, a Mississippi Gulf Coast survey by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University found that half of parents said their children had developed emotional or behavior problems after the storm. About two-thirds were depressed; nearly as many felt afraid. Heidi Sinclair, a pediatrician who supervises mobile pediatric care vans that serve schools and FEMA trailer parks for evacuees, found only a small percentage of the mental health needs of children is being met, again, consistent with the responses from the survey. Families have been displaced to different locations, and nearly every FEMA trailer resident has dealt with the death of a friend or family member since the storms. Delivery of mental health aid to FEMA trailer residents has been extraordinarily minimal, with only 3% of FEMA trailer residents reporting that they had received any form of mental health care in March of 2007. According to an article released in March of 2007 in the Annals of Emergency

Medicine, the rate of major depression in FEMA trailer residents was more than 7 times the
US rate.18 Additionally, 20% of trailer residents had contemplated suicide. As time has passed and residents remain housed in poorly designed trailer, the complexities of recovery services have further disillusioned the individuals. The frustrations of working to recover from their displacement had worn down many residents. Approximately 7.5% of FEMA trailer residents say that the major difficulty preventing them from achieving a permanent housing situation is their mental health issues and locating appropriate assistance. Many of these residents report that they have given up fighting to leave their trailers because they can no longer handle the disappointment and stress alone. These residents note that they have been unable to locate appropriate assistance to aid them in addressing the numerous difficulties keeping them in the trailer and therefore feel stuck. Appropriate mental health care was never provided to these displaced people, and it has not been an infrequent occurrence that citizens of Louisiana have simply given up fighting to stay alive.

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 14

The Deteriorating Physical Health of Trailer Residents
In March of 2007, 39% of FEMA trailer residents had health insurance. In January of 2008, this percentage had dropped to 33%. Although this drop isn’t drastic, new developments made public concerning the dangers to human health posed by occupation of FEMA trailers suggest that now more than ever FEMA trailer residents need access to healthcare. As early as March of 2006, a mere 6 months after landfall of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA began to recognize the health danger of occupying the trailers. Innumerable resident complaints of rashes and respiratory problems, along with testing by the Sierra Club demonstrating that formaldehyde levels in the trailers were harmful to human health, were not enough to motivate FEMA to take action. Finally, in February of 2008, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) publicly acknowledged the dangers of formaldehyde within the trailers. Some residents have been living within these trailers for two and a half years, and the CDC acknowledges that they are unsure of what effect this level of exposure will have on human beings. Up to this point CDC only has experience with exposure to formaldehyde in the work environment. They do not know what effect daily exposure to formaldehyde in the home environment will have on individuals, especially children and women entering child-bearing age. In an effort to disperse information, CDC held meetings across Louisiana and Mississippi on the last few days of February through the first few days of March. I n the flyer they distributed to encourage residents to attend, the CDC states the following: “FEMA will also be at each of the sessions to provide information about the relocation of FEMA-supplied trailer and mobile home residents to other housing.” Nonetheless, these FEMA representatives refused to make a statement at the podium, and trailer residents remain uncertain as to where they will house themselves once they are removed from their trailers, and how they will be deal with the health problems caused by their occupation of these trailers.

Page 15

No Way to Treat Our People

PART III. STORIES FEMA TRAILER PARK RESIDENTS
RENAISSANCE VILLAGE TRAILER PARK

FEMA’s Dirty Secret in Baker, Louisiana
Renaissance Village Trailer Park is the largest FEMA trailer park in the nation, and sits in Baker, Louisiana, which is about 20 miles north of Baton Rouge and 100 miles northwest of New Orleans. Renaissance Village received a great deal of press coverage and was portrayed as “FEMA’s Dirty Secret”, mainly because the park once housed close to 3,000 Katrina and Rita evacuees and the armed Blackwater Security guards hired to keep control over the park refused to allow the press onto the property or to speak to residents. Unlike smaller trailer parks, the residents of Renaissance Village have some access to public transportation and have FEMA caseworkers available on site. In addition, residents have received regular donations from numerous celebrities and nonprofit organizations. Today, Renaissance Village houses only about 300 residents, most leaving as soon as they find replacement housing. Those left behind

are faced with increasing crime per capita, less donations and less options in terms of alternative housing as open apartments in the area are already filled to capacity. In addition, those left behind tend to be elderly, disabled, and others who find it more difficult to access information and navigate FEMA’s intense bureaucracy. In fall 2007, residents of Renaissance Village formed a coalition and in January 2008, they presented a full housing transition plan to FEMA officials. Their plan includes the hiring

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 16

of caseworkers to assist residents in finding permanent housing. The coalition continues to try to work with FEMA and other federal and state agency officials to push for a plan that allows for all residents to achieve permanent housing before they are moved out of their trailers.

Stories from Renaissance Village Trailer Park
Donald Meyers is a resident of Renaissance Village Trailer Park. He is 56 years old and is a former painter who had to give up painting when he suffered a head injury years ago. Moreover, Mr. Myers is also badly in need of knee replacements. In order to walk, he wears braces and the gravel and grass in Renaissance Village become slippery and are obstacles whenever it rains. When Mr. Myers was forced to evacuate from New Orleans he left without his bottom dentures. Now, two and a half years later he still has no bottom dentures. Mr. Myers is married, but his wife evacuated to Houston and he has not seen her in over two years. He also has a son and a grandson, who make him smile when ever he thinks about them. Last he knew they were living under an overpass in New Orleans, but he is not sure where they are now. While life is difficult in Renaissance Village for everyone, it is even worse for residents like Mr. Myers, who are on disability and have no family to rely on for assistance. Mr. Myers would like to move into a senior citizens’ facility, somewhere he could be in out of the rain and walk around a little bit, a place where he can still have some privacy but get the help he needs to live. Prior to Katrina, Demetri Tendell rented an apartment in New Orleans and she was employed as an assistant to a local contractor. When Katrina hit, Ms. Tendell stayed in her apartment through the storm and even though her building was hit hard, she survived. Demetri evacuated to the Superdome with her neighbor, and then moved on to Baton Rouge, where she stayed with her daughter, son-in-law and her six grandchildren for a couple of weeks. She and her daughter, also a storm survivor, secured an apartment in Baton Rouge, but Ms. Tendell would soon move because there was insufficient space for the number of people living in the unit.

Page 17

No Way to Treat Our People

First, she moved to Winfield, Louisiana with her neighbor and his wife, and they stayed in a shelter for months, waiting to hear from FEMA regarding their applications for trailers. When Tendell’s neighbors’ application was granted, they allowed Ms. Tendell to move into the trailer in Renaissance Village trailer park with them. This was supposed to be a temporary living arrangement, however Ms. Tendell never received her own trailer despite her persistent efforts. More than two years later, Ms. Tendell is now being denied rental assistance by FEMA. She faces eviction from the trailer she currently lives in, along with her neighbor and his wife. Ms. Tendell wants to rent an apartment on her own in Baker or Baton Rouge, however she cannot afford the current rental prices. Lydia Ball-Arthur feels like she had to come to Renaissance Village. She is collegeeducated and worked for the New Orleans Public Library for eight years prior to Hurricane Katrina. Ms. Ball-Arthur had to evacuate to Houston and was on a waiting list for over one year to get a FEMA trailer. Lydia found a job in Baton Rouge but she could not find affordable housing. She moved in to her friend’s trailer in Renaissance Trailer park in early 2007. According to Ball-Arthur, Renaissance Village is toxic; the drugs, the environment, and it looked like it was going to go on forever before the recent formaldehyde announcements. She began having bad sinus attacks shortly after she moved into the trailer and went to the doctor because she thought she might be allergic to the grass around the trailers. When she heard about the formaldehyde last summer in 2007, she realized that was what was causing her sinus problems. She felt then like every breath in the government-sanctioned shelter was a death sentence, but worried her breathing problems would be blamed on her weight, or other health problems and not seen for what it was; over-exposure to formaldehyde. Late last fall she finally convinced a landlord nearby in Baker to let her move in to an apartment with her friend.

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 18

Despite her mounting debts, the loss of her savings pre-Katrina, and the long-term health effects of the toxics she has been exposed to, Lydia knows she is one of the lucky ones because she has a job and she could get out. During her interview she responded “This is a tragedy of the working poor, the backbone of this country, the ones who pay taxes until they die.” Ms. Ball-Arthur is a leader of the coalition that residents of Renaissance Village formed last year. Before the storms and the failure of the levees, Thomas Garrett (age 58) worked as a photographer and lived in New Orleans. He evacuated from New Orleans with thousands of other evacuees in August 2005. After a month and a half at a shelter, FEMA told him to go to Renaissance Village. FEMA assured him that he would not have to pay for anything for 18 months. FEMA said they would pay for electricity, propane, and that they would have a kitchen to feed people so they would not have to worry about food. Mr. Garrett moved into a trailer at Renaissance Village because of those assurances. A few months later, FEMA denied telling residents any of that, and the promises were never fulfilled. During his stay in the FEMA trailer, Mr. Garrett developed a heart condition that makes it no longer possible for him to work. He has also developed breathing and other problems that he believes are related to the high levels of formaldehyde present in his trailer. Mr. Garrett wants to move to St. Petersburg Florida to be close to family and friends in his current state of bad health. He also likely now qualifies for Section 8 or other public housing assistance. However, FEMA has denied him moving expenses, and due to FEMA and HUD regulations, he cannot apply for public housing assistance until he is no longer receiving FEMA assistance (i.e. until he is out of his trailer).

Page 19

No Way to Treat Our People

Extremely frustrated with the FEMA red tape and bureaucracy, Mr. Garrett is one of the leaders of the collation that residents in Renaissance Village formed last year. Ernest Arceneaux lived in New Orleans 40 years before Katrina struck. Before the storm, Mr. Arcenaux owned and operated a store for tourists with his brother. The last two years have been very difficult for Mr. Arcenaux. He attempted suicide and spent some time in the hospital. His trailer has been robbed three times. During his stay in the hospital the thieves did more than just steal, they also vandalized the inside of his trailer. He was so upset with the mess that instead of trying to clean things up when he returned, he just threw everything away. His birth certificate was lost somewhere in the mess. Mr. Arcenaux says that if it were not for his dog and his girlfriend, he probably would no longer be around. Mr. Arcenaux does not have access to a phone and the FEMA officials let residents make calls, reluctantly. He has been told by FEMA that they will not provide him with moving expenses if he does not move more than 50 miles away. Mr. Arcenaux does not have a car and does not have any way to move his things from the trailer to an apartment, even across town in Baker. SEPARATE AND NOT EQUAL

The Forgotten Trailer Park for Disabled Residents in Port Allen, Louisiana
Thirteen mentally and disabled residents sit in a small commercial trailer park at the side of a very busy road in Port Allen, Louisiana. They have been there since early 2007, after FEMA moved them to this commercial site from a much larger trailer park in Baton Rouge. The residents say they were taken to Port Allen under the guise that resources would be provided for them. Instead, unlike at the large trailer parks, such as Renaissance Village, where there is public transportation provided, visits by food banks and other charity

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 20

organizations, onsite FEMA caseworkers, the disabled residents in Port Allen have been left alone. Until recently, they had only infrequent visits by FEMA caseworkers and the local office of the Council on Aging provided them with bingo nights and rides to the grocery store once in awhile. Some residents are in wheelchairs, others on oxygen, some are battling anxiety and other mental disorders, and almost all are elderly. All of the residents find it difficult to take care of themselves. The trauma of the Hurricanes of 2005 has caused their health to worsen, and all of the residents report health problems they associate with the high levels of formaldehyde offgassing in their trailer, including respiratory problems, and difficulty sleeping. The trailer park where these

residents live sits at the side Court Road in Port Allen, and is bordered on both sides by a “pit” of standing water. All but one of the residents do not have a car and nearest grocery store is 1-2 miles away. Many of the residents used to walk or wheel themselves along the road to the store. However, late last year, a resident was struck and killed by a car as he wheeled himself along the road. Residents now pay $40-50 for a tax to get to the grocery store. In addition, most of these residents are receiving less than $40 per month in food stamps and all residents rely on their SSI checks entirely for their needs. These disabled residents had already been through a great deal before they arrived in Port Allen. Many were rescued from rooftops, endured days without food and water, and they were then placed in FEMA far from their families, friends, neighbors and other supportive communities. The health problems of these residents also require regular doctors visits, prescription refills and special medical equipment. And yet, they have been left on the side of the road, largely alone and with little resources for over a year. FEMA now has asked them to leave their trailers due to the health

Page 21

No Way to Treat Our People

risks associated with formaldehyde. Yet, these residents have no way of going in search of alternate housing, most are on very low fixed incomes, and they need to stay in a location near their doctor. These folks need assistance. They need food. They need someone to drive them to their doctor’s appointments. They need good medical care. They need counseling and a way to get in touch with their friends and family. They do not need to be left on the side of the road and then told they need to leave with no place to go.

Stories from Port Allen, Louisiana
Byron Ragland is originally from the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. He had just moved in with his partner before the storm, but she disappeared during the storm and he has never found her. He cannot face going back to New Orleans after what he has been through, during the storm and in the trailer park since. Mr. Ragland wants to get out of Louisiana and move to Jackson, Mississippi. He wants the serenity to fix things in his life, with his health, that cannot get taken care of while FEMA is putting him through everything that he has been going through. To date, FEMA has refused to assist Mr. Ragland with moving expenses and finding an apartment in Jackson thus far. Gilberto Garcia is a Legal Permanent Resident and has been living in the United States for 28 years, since receiving asylum from Cuba. Mr. Garcia was employed by the Cofco Factory in Metairie, Louisiana until a workplace accident severely injured and disabled his hand. endured seven surgeries on this hand. Since Katrina, Mr. Garcia has developed chronic asthma, and discovered that he now has high blood pressure and heart disease. He receives $10 per month in food stamps and the City of Port Allen’s food bank gives him one box of food every 30-45 days. Mr. Garcia is the He has

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 22

only resident in the trailer park with a car and gives the other residents a ride to the grocery when he is able. Mr. Garcia wants to get on Section 8 and move back to Jefferson Parish, but he has been told they are not accepting anyone else on the Section 8 waiting list. He does not want to remain in Baton Rouge because all of his friends and family are in Jefferson Parish. Lennon Wallace lived in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans before Katrina, but he has been living away in trailers ever since. He is battling worsening mental health problems and though he is fully functioning most days, his neighbors worry when he goes into his trailer for weeks and refuses to come to the door. He wants out of the trailer as soon as possible but has been unable to secure transportation to look for housing nearby. At 66 years of age, Ernest Smith is one of the older Port Allen trailer residents. He was rescued from the rooftop of his house in New Orleans East, but developed severe asthma and bronchitis since (he was submerged in storm waters for several days) and now has to be on oxygen 24 hours a day. Since being relocated to the Port Allen park one year ago, Mr. Smith has he has been to the emergency room four times and he believes the formaldehyde in his trailer is worsening his breathing problems to the point that his life is severely threatened. He has been shifted from doctor to doctor as he has been shifted from trailer to trailer since the storm. He is worried that his current doctor is not providing him with good care and that his complicated health problems need to be addressed as soon as possible. Mr. Smith was unable to apply to the Road Home Program in time and his insurance company has been no help in providing him with funds to rebuild. He now has decided that even though he has three children in New Orleans, he can never go back. About living in the trailer park in Port Allen, Mr. Smith said “It’s like they said we’ll just put out there and leave you.” He

Page 23

No Way to Treat Our People

said that until recently, he had not seen anyone going out there to help the residents. Mr. Smith would like to find an apartment nearby that he could pay for with his SSI check ($550 per month). He has a local minister helping him look for an affordable apartment, but they have had no luck so far. ROAD TO NOWHERE

Tens of Thousands of Homeowners Still in Trailers
Generally, homeowners have fared better than renters Post-Katrina. The Road Home Program was set up by the state of Louisiana to distribute rebuilding money and other assistance to homeowners. Many homeowners also had insurance policies that should have allowed them to collect for the damages to their homes. However, of the over 184,000 applicants to the Road Home Program, only about half have received funds so far. In addition, insurance companies have been made infamous post-Katrina and a lawsuit over an unpaid Katrina insurance claim reached the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2008. None of surveyed trailer residents who are homeowners has been made whole, and most have not even received enough money to rebuild. Of those that have received funds or loans, many have been victims of contractor fraud and have lost their rebuilding funds forever. This has been especially true for senior citizens. So many of the elderly turned their rebuilding funds over to contractors who either did a poor job or took the money and ran. And, once the money is gone, there is little to no recourse. There is usually no hope of tracking down the contractor, and less hope, even with a judgment, of recovering money. The combination of these problems has left tens of thousands of homeowners still in trailers in front of their gutted homes.

Stories from Homeowners Living in FEMA Trailers in New Orleans
Donald and Zella Roberts waited six months to move into their trailer after Katrina hit; more than two years later, they still haven’t moved out. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts own a home in New Orleans East and lived there Pre-Katrina with their daughter and six grandchildren. After the storms and the failure of the levees, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts applied for a trailer, but had to wait 6 months for it to be delivered. Payment of their insurance proceeds was delayed, but as soon as they received same, they hired a contractor, who just as quickly stole $18,000.

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 24

In December 2006, the Roberts found another contractor, Curb Appeal Restoration, LLC, which had completed two houses in their neighborhood. The work progressed well at first, but later the Roberts uncovered signs of inferior quality, e.g., the ceilings were cracking, water leaked in the house and, because the contractor had not followed the floor plans, there were gaps in the house. Mr. Roberts was consistent with his examination of the work, but the contractor worked less and less often. When the project completion date passed without out the work being performed, the Roberts could not refinance their home. Now the pay $300 more a month on their mortgage. Mrs. Roberts has postponed retirement, despite the fact she is in poor health. All totaled, the Roberts have paid tens of thousands to a contractor who has refused the complete their home, but has purchased new cars and a new home since signing their contract. Adding insult to injury, the Roberts were just notified (along with 16 other mostly elderly residents) this contractor has filed for bankruptcy protection, meaning it is highly unlikely these residents will ever be repaid or have their home completed. So the Roberts reside in a FEMA trailer, in front of their home, which they cannot repair. FEMA is continually threatening to evict them from this temporary home. Josie Jones is a dotting grandmother who lives in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. She works full time at Walmart and has been living in a FEMA trailer since 2006. She was lucky to receive her Road Home Program money in early summer 2007 and quickly began looking for a good contractor to rebuild her home. She got 4-5 estimates from different contractors, but she, too, has been defrauded. This will not save her from the continual threat of eviction by FEMA, however. She pleads continually, “The stress of this life is killing me.”

Page 25

No Way to Treat Our People

PART IV.
CALL TO ACTION FOR FEMA TRAILER RESIDENTS
The government of the United States of America has failed the displaced peoples of the Gulf Coast. These citizens were torn from their homes and lives by not only a natural phenomenon, but also an inadequate and inappropriate government response. Rather than strategically formulating a plan to aid residents rebuild and restore, the US government and the state governments of the Gulf South repeatedly presented residents with programs and plans which not only did not meet their needs, but in some cases exacerbated their problems. From its very initiation, the distribution of FEMA trailers to displaced people in the Gulf Coast has been a poorly designed plan. Each trailer costs an excessive amount, consuming resources which could have better served the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Displaced residents were removed from the cities, neighborhoods and communities which they knew and trapped in trailer parks without access to the resources and infrastructure which they needed to rebuild their lives. Residents of the Renaissance Trailer Park frequently reported that rather than giving their lives rebirth, their habitation of a trailer in the park has stolen all opportunity because they did not have access to sufficient transportation to maintain a job and did not have access to sufficient communication technology to maintain contact with government assistance programs. Now residents find themselves on the verge of eviction with no place to go. Those individuals and families still occupying FEMA trailers do not have sufficient resources to finish rebuilding their homes; they are unable to locate rental housing which they can afford. They are stuck without the employment resources and access to transportation which would allow them to begin to rebuild their lives. According to the Office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Adequate housing is universally viewed as one of the most basic human needs.” What’s more, the human right to affordability in housing is such that other basic needs are not threatened or compromised. This right is being denied to the displaced residents of the Gulf

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 26

Coast. Although a crisis situation forced these citizens from their homes, the actions of the US and state governments have kept these individuals from attaining their right to housing. FEMA trailers, built for the US government, have been poisoning the residents occupying these 32 square foot boxes for the past two and a half years. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…” Additionally, according to the Guiding Principle on Internal Displacement formulated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, “The authorities undertaking such displacement shall ensure, to the greatest practicable extent, that proper accommodation is provided to the displaced persons, that such displacements are effected in satisfactory conditions of safety, nutrition, health and hygiene, and that members of the same family are not separated.” Quite to the contrary, the housing provided to the internally displaced Gulf Coast residents has been seriously harming these individuals. The US government has an obligation to right the wrongs which it has committed against its citizens. Not only did its poorly designed recovery plan trap many residents from recovering, but the government’s lack of oversight actually poisoned its own population. We call on the US government and the governments of the Gulf South states to develop a plan to restore within their citizens the opportunity to finally recover from the 2005 hurricanes and regain healthy, fulfilling lives. A long-term plan must be formulated to make sure that citizens in the Gulf Coast have access to safe, affordable housing, especially taking into account the vulnerable populations, including the elderly and disabled, who continue to occupy FEMA trailers. Additionally, all residents of FEMA trailers, past and present, need both immediate and continued access to medical examinations and health care in order to gauge and address any health problems resulting from their exposure to extremely high levels of formaldehyde. Not only is immediate assessment necessary, but the government must make sure that there is adequate monitoring and medical follow-up. To join the International Campaign for a Victims’ Fund for FEMA Trailer Residents, contact fematrailerfund@louisianajusticeinstitute.org, or call LJI at 504.872.9134.

Page 27

No Way to Treat Our People

ENDNOTES
1. “FEMA works to keep trailer parks temporary,” Paul Singer, National Journal, March 13, 2006. 2. Electric and Gas Restoration Schedule, Entergy New Orleans Storm Center, www.entergy-neworleans.com/your_home/storm_center 3. “Extended Families Living Together May be Eligible for FEMA Disaster Assistance,” FEMA Press Release 1606-089, November 26, 2005. 4. “Toxic Trailers? Tests Reveal High Formaldehyde Levels in FEMA Trailers,” www.sierraclub.org/gulfcoast/downloads/formaldehyde_test.pdf 5. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Hearing on Dangers posed by Toxic Trailers, July 19, 2007, http://oversight.house.gov/documents/ 200711114164004.pdf. 6. FEMA Statement on the Deployment and Sale of Temporary Housing Units, August 1, 2007, www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=38329. 7. Trailer Deadline at End of Month, Jefferson Parish News Release, March 14, 2007, www.jeffparish.net/index.cfm?DOCID=5657. 8. FEMA Trailer Permit Extensions Granted, St. Tammany Parish Press Release, February 28, 2007, www.stpgov.org. 9. Kenner Deadline Approaches for FEMA Trailer Removal, City of Kenner Press Release, www.kenner.la.us. 10. FEMA Quietly closing N.O. trailer sites, blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/11/ fema_quietly_closing_new_orlea.html. 11. FEMA Sets Date for Closing Katrina Trailer Camps, www.nytimes.com/2007/11/29/ us/29trailer.html. 12. CDC Releases Results of Formaldehyde Level Tests — TEMA to Expedite Relocation of Residents From Temporary Housing Units, FEMA and CDC Joint Press Release, February 14, 2008, www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/pressrel/2008/ r080214b.htm. 13. 2007 Student Hurricane Network FEMA Trailer Survey Project: During the week of March 12-16th, 2007, over 160 law students from 18 law schools interviewed residents from 557 trailers in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, as well as residents living in the Renaissance Trailer Park outside of Baton Rouge. The information gathered suggested that the major problems facing residents was a lack of resources to repair their homes and a lack of

No Way to Treat Our People

Page 28

affordable housing options other than the trailer. Nearly half of the residents interviewed reported problems with their trailer, including leaks, mold, and roaches. Some residents reported health problems related to their trailer. Although this survey project gathered valuable information concerning the situation facing FEMA trailer residents, the project did little to help these residents address their needs and move themselves into a more permanent living situation. Considering FEMA’s decision to close its trailer parks and the various parish codes outlawing the presence of trailers on residential streets, the Louisiana Justice Institute decided to undertake a project building upon the 2007 survey. 14. www.road2la.org. 15. Citizens’ Road Home Action Team, www.page.thinknola.com/wiki/show/citizens% 27+road+home+action+team. 16. Hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee on Shortfall and Slow Recovery Checks from Road Home administrators, http://landrieu.senate.gov/mlandrieu/releases/07/2007524E52.html. 17. “New Orleans Hurt by Acute Rental Shortage,” New York Times, Susan Saulny, December 3, 2007. 18. Larrance, Ryan, Michael Anastario, and Lynn Lawry; “Health Status Among Internally Displaced Persons in Louisiana and Mississippi Travel Trailer Parks,” Annals of

Emergency Medicine, Volume 49, Issue 5 (March 31, 2007).

Page 29

No Way to Treat Our People

1631 Elysian Fields Avenue New Orleans, Louisiana 70117 t: 504.872.9134 f: 504.872.9878 www.louisianajusticeinstitute.org

1452 North Broad Street New Orleans, Louisiana 70117 t: 504.309.2376 f: 504.309.2379 www.childrensdefense.org

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful