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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Renters struggle for assistance

Rigid rules abandon needy families


D'IBERVILLE --Before Hurricane Katrina, Susan Anderson and her 10-year-old son, Tyler, evacuated from Arbor View Apartment Homes with their most treasured possessions, including photographs of Tyler from infancy to boyhood.

Those possessions are stacked in a dozen boxes against freshly painted blank walls at Arbor View.

"I'm not comfortable enough to put a nail in a wall and hang something up," Susan Anderson said recently. "It will hurt so much if I have to take it down."

The Andersons are among those who struggled to make ends meet before Hurricane Katrina and now find themselves one step from homelessness despite more than $3.2 billion in government and charity assistance for Mississippians hit by Katrina.

Their story illustrates how survivors can be mistreated and mismanaged when their needs fail to dovetail with recovery's rigid rules. It also raises questions about how smooth the transition will be for more than 10,000 households still in FEMA trailers, as Anderson and Tyler were until their apartment was renovated.

More than 50 percent of those households rented before the hurricane. The Andersons were among the vast majority - 99.4 percent - who managed without public housing assistance, according to FEMA.

Anderson dissolves into tears when she describes the way FEMA has treated her.

She said, "I think their job is to demean you, insult you and accuse you of trying to rip them off."

FEMA refused to discuss her case for privacy reasons but said it is under review.

Anderson has received about $15,000 in FEMA assistance but no money to help with rent despite the fact that individuals are eligible for up to $26,200. Relief organizations have also been unable to assist, although Mercy Housing and Human Development agreed Friday to take on the case because 49-year-old Anderson is disabled.

FEMA eventually put them up at a Holiday Inn in Orange Beach, Ala. The Andersons spent their $2,000 in emergency funds on transportation, laundry, food and cell phone minutes.

The FEMA workers kept telling Anderson to find an apartment. But she saw no sense in searching for a rental in a small resort community where she had no support system and no transportation.

Tyler, desperate to return home, finally told her, "Just get a car, Momma, and we can drive it as close as we can to home and sleep in it until they have something ready for us."

The stress was getting to Tyler. He finally had to confess to his overburdened mother that he was having problems. His health insurance, through the state of Mississippi, covered his medical costs. He needed testing and treatment.

Anderson rented a car, hoping a personal visit to the FEMA disaster relief center would help them secure a trailer in D'Iberville.

On their second trip to the Mississippi Coast in a rental car, the Andersons were once again informed by FEMA that there was no trailer for them in D'Iberville. But they had seen vacant spots at one of the parks there.

Susan Anderson pitched a fit. The relief worker got on the telephone. Within 30 minutes, they were handed the keys to a FEMA trailer in D'Iberville.

They moved in after Christmas 2005. Tyler returned to D'Iberville Elementary School, where he was a fourth-grader. In February, Laura Bush visited. She wanted to know what made the children feel safe. Tyler drew a picture of the Holiday Inn employees in front of the hotel. They had surprised his mom and him at Christmas with a tree and gifts. He got a new bicycle and a PlayStation 2.

That night on television, Laura Bush mentioned his drawing and talked about how important it was for children to feel safe. Susan Anderson could tell from the look on her son's face how happy he was that someone - the first lady, no less - had cared enough to listen.

How to help

If you would like to help Susan Anderson and her 10-year-old son, Tyler, call Mercy Housing and Human Development, Monday through Friday, at 896-1945.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Struggled to make ends meet? I lived in Arbor View Apartments in D'Iberville during Hurricane Katrina as well and I can tell you that Arbor View is one of the most expensive apartments in that area. I don't know if I would describe her previous situation as "struggling".