While some storm-weary Mississippi Gulf Coast residents braced against Hurricane Rita’s rain and wind in tents pitched in front of uninhabitable homes last weekend, more than 1,400 trailers intended for use as temporary shelter sat unused throughout south Mississippi.
According to the Biloxi Sun Herald, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) brought the trailers down to provide shelter for those with no place to live. At one trailer distribution center in western Harrison County, between 350 and 400 trailers sat on the lot Saturday, providing no shelter from the Gulf Coast’s latest storm.
Though some 500 new trailers are being delivered to Mississippi and Louisiana every day, FEMA has not been able to place the homeless at the same rate as the shelters arrive.
Figures released by FEMA and the American Red Cross show a staggering need for shelter by residents in both states. James McIntyre, a FEMA spokesman in Louisiana, estimated that Katrina alone displaced 300,000 households in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Of that number, 200,000 will need FEMA housing assistance.
“You can’t drop 30,000 trailers on the Gulf Coast and just let people take them,” said FEMA’s Mississippi spokesman, Gene Romano. “There is a process here. We’ve got over 1,900 trailers placed. The people in those trailers are pretty pleased.”
So far, FEMA has either placed or is ready to distribute 3,335 temporary units in Mississippi. That leaves a deficit of more than 99,000 units statewide. Their response plan does not require bringing 100,000 travel trailers here. Instead, they plan to use several different housing options for displaced residents including cruise ships, rental reimbursement and tent cities.
Dallas Trammell is still waiting for FEMA’s assistance. The Pearlington resident makes $724 a month on government disability and could not afford to insure her home.
“It’s been 13 days since I called them,” she said as she stood in front of the brightly colored dome tent pitched in front of her rotting former home. “I’m supposed to have a trailer coming and I got a place cleared off to put it. It’s got all the connections but, for some reason, they still have a hold on it.”
The wait has to do with having a clear, level spot to put the trailer and water, sewage and electrical connections ready to attach to it. When the trailer is going on a homeowner’s land, inspectors must first go out to make sure everything is ready.
The housing problem is exacerbated by a lack of rental properties along the Coast, which puts an even larger burden on an ever-increasing number of people seeking housing assistance.
“Local officials will start identifying homes that need to be removed (condemned),” Romano, the FEMA spokesman in Mississippi, said. “When that happens those people will need these temporary homes.”
Because of the changing number of homes lost, people whose housing situation changes and increasing efficiency that FEMA takes care of temporary housing, agency spokesmen would not predict how long the operation will take.