What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mother, son struggling to keep roof over heads

Posted on Tue, Nov. 13, 2007

D'IBERVILLE -- Susan Anderson watched her recovery money dwindle as she tried to keep herself and her son, Tyler, afloat after Hurricane Katrina.

In early 2006, they finally secured a temporary home in a FEMA trailer off Lamey Bridge Road, a few miles from the D'Iberville apartment complex where they had lived before the storm.

Anderson worked the phones, trying to find help. She desperately needed a car. Her son had taken ill after the hurricane and had weekly appointments with two different doctors. A cab ride to one of those appointments was $38.

A FEMA counselor referred Anderson to the Harrison County Long Term Recovery Coalition, whose flier said the agency helped with unmet needs such as housing and vehicles.

She filled out an application with the Harrison County group, but did not hear back. As 2006 wore on, Anderson was running out of options. FEMA had given her $9,000 for furniture, but she and Tyler didn't need furniture for the trailer. FEMA could not give her money for a car because the two she lost in Katrina had been in family members' names.

She finally decided to use the FEMA money as a downpayment on a car. She bought a new Toyota Corolla because she feared a used car might be a flooded Katrina wreck. Her decision to buy a car with the furniture money was a no-no. From that point, relief workers began speaking to her as if she were a thief.

"Why can a mother not get her child medical treatment?" Anderson said recently. "What was I supposed to do? Flap my arms, turn into a bird and fly him to his medical appointments?"

What the various relief workers failed to understand was that Anderson and her son had not been sitting in their trailer, piling up relief loot. They had lost their food stamps because they had a FEMA trailer. Their transportation expenses had skyrocketed. Laundromat washers and dryers ate lots of quarters.

Anderson documented her expenses, including the weekly doctor's appointments.

By March of 2007, apartments had been restored at Arbor View, where the Andersons lived before the storm. She and Tyler moved home, away from the FEMA park where drug addicts loitered and strangers bunked with the neighbors.

Anderson's rent is slightly higher and the apartment smaller than before the storm, but the complex is kid-friendly, secure and well maintained. Anderson has received no FEMA assistance for the move or the rent. FEMA caps individual assistance at $26,200, but Anderson said she has received only about $15,000.

The Salvation Army gave the Andersons vouchers for two mattresses and box springs. Anderson called the Harrison County Long Term Recovery again to see why no caseworker had been in touch and if they could help with furniture. The woman who answered said Anderson could be prosecuted for duplication of benefits.

"She told me I should have saved my FEMA money for furniture," Anderson said.

FEMA refused to acknowledge that her benefits would not be duplicated if an agency helped her. Anderson decided to visit the FEMA office in Biloxi.

"Security is everywhere," Anderson said. "It's locked up tighter than Fort Knox." She said a fellow named Buddy was sent up front to talk to her. Buddy told her to copy her records and resubmit them, including all her rental car receipts. They were duly submitted, but her request for further assistance was denied.

She said Buddy told her: "As far as I can see, you're doing pretty good. You've got a brand new car, you've got a new apartment. It's the end of the line for you, lady."

On Aug. 16, Anderson penned a letter to U.S. Sen. Trent Lott. The letter was 10 pages organized as 17 points. The 11th point: "We have fallen so far behind on just the most basic living expenses, we are going to lose everything."

Point 15, in part: "I have not gotten rich from this situation. We have had to seek assistance for food and to pay electricity over the past several months. I sold my jewelry. It wasn't worth much but had sentimental value to me (I salvaged it from mud and water after Katrina). My son has even sold his video games.

"I've heard words like 'donor intent' from charitable groups. I don't think donors would mind if their donations went toward helping a mother get her child to his doctor. As far as FEMA is concerned, I don't understand why they seem to be enjoying the fact that I will lose everything again. It seems like such a waste of taxpayer dollars because a lot has been spent on housing for us up to this point."

Anderson has received no response.

As for FEMA, the agency could not discuss Anderson's case because of privacy issues. Instead, FEMA released this statement: "Her case is still under review. The review process is still continuing."

Anderson doubts she and Tyler could find a cheaper place to live. Their rent at Arbor View is $835 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

"I'm not saying I can't pay rent," Anderson said. "Right now, I'm just saying there's not a lot to choose from. I'll never have any money for furniture now."

Besides the beds, they have a couch and love seat loaned to them by a woman from one of the churches. Anderson also bought a washer and dryer. They have no tables. Tyler points to a plastic storage box when asked where he eats.

Still, he is thriving in school and happy to be home. Best of all, he has completed his medical treatments and feels much better, although he is still very anxious.

"I worry that we're not going to be able to live here," said Tyler, who has bright blue eyes. "I want to live here more than anything."

How to help

If you would like to help Susan Anderson and her son, call Mercy Housing and Human Development at 896-1945.

© 2007 Sun Herald. All Rights Reserved.

Return to A.M. in the Morning! Home

No comments: