Monday, June 9, 2008

Recent Editorials on FEMA Trailer Residents and the Need for Permanent Housing

Stress, fear of homelessness are a volatile mix
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Re: "Trailers in N.O. must go by July 1," Page 1, June 6.

Early Wednesday morning, Eric Minshew was fatally shot after a standoff which began when he ordered FEMA workers to leave his trailer outside his gutted house in Lakeview. I have deep sympathy for Mr. Minshew, as well as his family and friends. I am immensely saddened and wish that the severe housing and health crisis on the GulfCoast did not have to come to this. But I cannot say that I am surprised.

Last week FEMA announced that approximately 23,000 families are still living in FEMA trailers across the Gulf Coast. Those Gulf Coast residents in FEMA trailers are more than desperate, as are the thousands of displaced residents left homeless after being denied further FEMA assistance. The fear of homelessness, combined with extremely high levels of stress, worsening mental illness and lack of mental health services, makes this situation volatile.

A few days ago I had to advise a grandmother living with her nine children and grandchildren in a FEMA trailer at Renaissance Village to take a 30-day hotel voucher from FEMA to avoid a standoff and further anguish for her family. The grandchildren had developed health problems since moving into the trailer.

FEMA had already told her that it would not pay her rental assistance. She knew that after she went into the hotel she would have 30 days, and then she and her family would be homeless. She had no money to pay for food while she was in the hotel, and would not have access to the Catholic Charities, health services and transportation that has been provided to residents at Renaissance Village.

What kind of country is this, where we force grandmothers to make a decision between a toxic tin box and homelessness? What would you decide?

As FEMA continues to push these residents out of their trailers and off FEMA assistance, people only become more desperate. As residents and advocates, we are all in agreement: We fear the worse is yet to come.

Lauren E. Bartlett
Staff Attorney
Louisiana Justice Institute
New Orleans

Headline falsely suggests a life of catered luxury
Sunday, June 01, 2008

We were deeply disappointed to read the Sun Herald's May 30 headline "FEMA moving some to hotels, paying for catered meals."

While it's true that families moved to hotels have packaged meals delivered at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day, the article fails to explain
why: hotel rooms do not have kitchens, a refrigerator, a stove or even a microwave.

People are in hotels because of failed policies: FEMA's failure to safely house displaced people; Mississippi's failure to prioritize and build affordable apartments; and local governments' failure to permit affordable housing. This hotel plan is the housing of last resort.

We appreciate FEMA recognizing that families with no place to go, relocated into rooms about the same size as FEMA trailers but without any ability to store groceries or heat soup, has a duty to assist families to eat during this difficult transition time. We believe the Sun Herald should have recognized and reported this fact, instead of using a headline that falsely suggests a life of luxury and ease awaits these formaldehyde-poisoned, displaced, and disrespected Mississippians.

Mississippi Center for Justice

Published: June 9, 2008
New Orleans is struggling with a growing number of sick and disabled people who have become homeless since the hurricane. This crisis will only get worse until local, state and federal officials come together behind a plan that finds short-term housing for them immediately, and permanent affordable housing for them quickly.
Congress can start by approving a mdest, $73 million in funding to house many of the region’s ill and disabled residents, who would also be provided with psychiatric and social services. Such a measure passed the Senate, but it is facing resistance in the House.
Congress also needs to take at least two additional steps to prevent even more people from becoming homeless in New Orleans, where rents have soared since the storm. It should extend the disaster housing assistance program, which is set to expire in March 2009, so more people are not forced into the streets. It should also rewrite federal disaster law to permit the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide the long-term assistance that thousands of hurricane survivors are clearly going to need.
In New Orleans, homeless services agencies estimate that the homeless population has doubled since the storm. The homeless are said to be sicker and more severely disabled than in the past. Outreach workers have come across people suffering from severe mental disorders, as well as from cancer, AIDS and end-stage kidney disease.
In what could be a harbinger of things to come, 30 percent of the people surveyed in one homeless encampment reported that they had moved onto the streets after being cut off from Federal Emergency Management Agency housing assistance or while living in a household that had lost the benefit.
The state of Louisiana has committed itself to creating 3,000 units of supportive housing targeted to extremely low-income families, which includes many people with disabilities and special needs. But for the units to be affordable, Congress must pass the $73 million in funding to pay for rent subsidies.
This would be a terrible place to economize. The dollar amount is small, and the lives of some of this country’s most vulnerable citizens — who were already abandoned once by their government — are at stake.

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