September 24, 2005


"Ghettos of Despair"

Nearly four weeks after Hurricane Katrina displaced more Americans from their homes than any event in at least 60 years, efforts to find housing for 200,000 families along the devastated Gulf Coast are bogging down, according to federal, state and private sector officials.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials complain of a drastic shortage of sites suitable to state and local officials for the huge trailer parks FEMA hopes to establish for evacuees.

Local and parish leaders say FEMA's plans to supply the trailer parks with water, sewer, electricity and other services are haphazard or nonexistent, and the encampments, some of which could include 15,000 units, are bigger than any the agency has ever established...

"We seem to be in this new state of chaos," said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. "Nobody's on message because everybody's got their own message"...

Federal officials told Congress on Sept. 8 that as many as 1 million people were displaced by the storm and 450,000 families were homeless, numbers that echo assumptions in a FEMA hurricane planning exercise last year.

In reality the numbers are far more murky. FEMA now estimates that about 300,000 families are displaced and expects 200,000 will be unable to find temporary housing on their own, said Jim McIntyre, FEMA's chief housing spokesman.

Those left behind are among the least self-sufficient. Surveys of evacuees in Houston show that roughly two-thirds do not have bank accounts, credit cards or insurance, most had family incomes of less than $20,000 and half have children under 18.

To house them, FEMA has ordered 125,000 trailers that it planned to deploy as close as possible to affected cities, following a playbook the agency relied on after four Florida hurricanes and its New Orleans exercise last year...

As of Tuesday, FEMA had 1,825 trailers in the region.

But in Baton Rouge and Washington, some state and federal officials say FEMA's reliance on trailers is increasingly unpopular at all levels of government and both political parties.

Some are alarmed at reports that FEMA trailer cities in Florida have regressed into "ghettos of despair," in Newt Gingrich's words, with high rates of poverty, crime and social strain.
Good job, Brownie...

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