Hard times are hardly new in Pass Christian, Miss., but four years after Hurricane Katrina tore this area apart, Ritamarie Northrop still calls a FEMA travel trailer home. And she’s one of about 2,100 Gulf Coast families suffering the very same fate, as CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reported recently.
“I gave up on FEMA,” Northrop said. “You know, I could have appealed, appealed, appealed. I gave up.”
At the height of the recovery, 143,000 families in Louisiana and Mississippi found refuge from the storm in such trailers. Now two years after FEMA began moving people out of the trailers, case workers tell CBS News the thousands left in the trailers aren’t trying to beat the system; they are victims of a system that’s proved incapable of helping them get out.
Just ask Kendall Deschamp.
“Oh it’s miserable,” he said of living in the trailer. “Bottom line: it’s miserable.”
A disabled state highway worker, Deschamp collects just $1,368 a month in benefits. That’s not enough, he says, to afford the sheetrock and new hot water heater he needs for the permit allowing him to move back into his four-bedroom home, which stands just a few tantalizing feet away.
What would he need to get the job of repairing his old home done, top to bottom?
“Probably a couple thousand and a day’s time,” Deschamp said. That’s it.
Deschamp says he called FEMA countless times for assistance, only to get an endless game of bureaucratic run-around that has beaten him down.
“They give me the same answers: ‘You need to call this person.’ I call this person and they tell me I need to call this person.”
Kandy Moran, a state social worker, says all she needs is a bit more time — and money — to fix her home. FEMA’s answer: A threat of eviction or temporary housing in the next county.
“My grandparents gave us this property,” Moran said. “So when FEMA approaches me and says, ‘Kandy, we can put you in a rental.’ — I can’t leave my home.”
Today the remaining travel trailers serve as a symbol of a recovery gone wrong: A hurricane of empty promises, chaos and coverup; a system that remains in the words of one FEMA worker on the ground in Mississippi, “One big, disgusting mess.”
CSB News wanted to ask FEMA about what’s being done for folks like this. But FEMA told us to call another federal agency, Housing and Urban Development, saying that, as of June, HUD had taken over long-term housing of disaster victims.
“We’re working with the state to remove all the bureaucratic red tape to make sure that those final families can be serviced by those programs as well,” HUD Senior Adviser Fred Tombar told CBS News
Yet so many of those final families say the last thing they want is another program. Rather, they want someone to actually listen, to offer the help they really need, and to close the doors on their trailers once and for all.