Tuesday, February 26, 2008

100,000 Gulf Coast Residents Face Imminent Eviction

100,000 Gulf Coast residents currently living in FEMA trailers face eviction in the next two to three months. These are the same folks that fought for their lives through the storms and flood waters of 2005. Then they fought to find a place to live, any place. Instead of finding a home, they moved into 32 sq. foot trailers, often far from supportive communities and family members. When residents of trailers began complaining of skin rashes, respiratory problems, itchy eyes, and other health problems in early 2006, FEMA ignored them. When outside groups tested the trailers and found high levels of formaldehyde present, FEMA ignored them. In fact, FEMA kept providing those same trailers to additional residents with the the knowledge that they might be putting the residents at risk. Now, almost 3 years after the trailers were first provided to residents, FEMA wants them out. After hundreds of thousands of children, elderly residents, pregnant women have been exposed to 2 ½ years of obscenely high levels of formaldehyde, FEMA wants them out and has no plans to take care of the health and housing crisis that looms ahead. Though FEMA has not yet set a date or given most residents notices of eviction, these next steps are sure to follow soon.

Where are the 100,000 residents supposed to go? FEMA has no plans for permanent housing for the FEMA trailer residents. In fact, while HUD is taking over rental assistance for Gulf Coast residents who were provided with FEMA rental assistance until last fall, FEMA has announced that HUD has no such longer term plans for rental assistance for residents evicted from FEMA trailers. In addition, while private rental housing has been built and rebuilt at an extremely fast rate, the supply cannot keep up with the need, and the rents are still double and sometimes triple the prices before 2005 in New Orleans. Moreover, almost 50% of these residents are homeowners in Louisiana, still waiting for Road Home Program funds, and many who have already received their rebuilding funds have become the victims of contractor fraud, leaving too many to count still in their FEMA trailers outside their gutted homes. These homeowners face imminent eviction from their FEMA trailers and as one resident put it to me last night, “I know I’m going to be under the Claiborne Bridge by May and after two years of fighting I can’t believe it is going to come to that.” The Claiborne Bridge underpass is now home to the homeless families that had been living in protest in a park in front of New Orleans City Hall until the Mayor decided to fence the park off last month when the Sugar Bowl came to town.

What is more, what medical treatment is being provided today to take care of the rashes, respiratory and other health effects of long-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde? I met a gentleman last night who is living in a FEMA trailer park in Port Arthur, Louisiana. He told me he has been asking FEMA for 2 years to see a doctor to talk about his breathing and other health problems which developed after he moved into his trailer. FEMA has done nothing and he has already used up all of his allotted Medicaid doctors visits for the year.

FEMA will not be able to use this formaldehyde scare, the same issue that these residents raised with FEMA over two years ago, to get residents out of their FEMA trailers quickly, silently, and without a plan to deal with the long-term health problems they have caused and permanent, affordable housing options for these folks. These residents have been continuously fighting for lives, they have spent too many long hours dealing with FEMA’s bureaucracy and have even found time to develop community plans, which they have presented to FEMA, which would allow FEMA to move folks out of trailers equitably and safely. It is now FEMA’s turn to respond with the same energy and respect that the trailer residents have shown. It is time for FEMA to step up and respond with real recovery efforts dedicated to these people, which we have been waiting on for far too long.

To begin with, FEMA needs a plan that goes beyond hotel rooms for these residents. If HUD is not going to take over rental assistance for trailer residents who are being evicted, what long-term plan is in place? We are particularly worried about the elderly and the disabled trailer residents, many of whom have been left behind and will continue to be left behind in any movement to find permanent housing. As the CDC recommends, multi-agency collaboration will be required to achieve safe, healthy, permanent housing for these residents.

Secondly, the long-term health problems of these residents and their immediate and continuing need for medical assistance must be addressed immediately. The CDC recommends that FEMA should consider establishing a health registry and long-term assistance to the Louisiana and Mississippi Health Departments to ensure adequate monitoring and medical follow-up. We expect no less from FEMA, and more from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and other state and federal health agencies.

Lastly, these residents have been telling FEMA what they needed all along. They have been arranging meetings, signing petitions, developing plans, and writing letters, all to no avail. We expect FEMA officials to start listening to the people and step up to the task of providing for their needs. These folks know what they need... they have been saying it all along.

The KatrinaRitaVille Express (www.krvexpress.org) outside of the CDC/FEMA Meeting in Baker, Louisiana, on Monday February 25, 2008.

CDC/FEMA Meetings Across Louisiana This Week to Discuss Testing and a Study on Formaldehyde Levels in FEMA Trailers

Last night FEMA and the CDC hosted a meeting in Baker, Louisiana, to address the testing of FEMA trailers and a recent study on formaldehyde levels entitled "CDC Public Availability Session about the Air Quality Testing in FEMA-Supplied Trailers and Mobile Homes." This meeting followed closely in the footsteps of FEMA's Valentine's Day announcement that all Gulf Coast residents would have to be out of their FEMA trailers by Summer 2008 due to health dangers from high levels of formaldehyde present in the trailers.

After doing a very poor job to publicize the meeting (most residents found out about the meeting on the news yesterday morning) and announcing the time and location of the meeting to the community only the night before, there were only about 60 residents from four trailer parks in the area. There were, however, also about 5 news stations present, reporters from 5-6 newspapers and various attorneys who represent FEMA trailer residents in lawsuits on the formaldehyde issue.

Michael McGeehin, a medical doctor who works for the CDC, presented his findings on the testings and study that was conducted in December 2007 and January 2008 to assess levels of formaldehyde in travel trailers supplied by FEMA and possible health affects. The key findings he presented included:

• In many trailers, mobile homes, and park models tested, formaldehyde levels were elevated relative to typical levels of US indoor exposure.

• Average levels of formaldehyde in all units was about 77 parts per billion (ppb). This level is higher than US background levels. Levels measured ranged from 3 ppb to 590 ppb.

• These measured levels are likely to under-represent long-term exposures since formaldehyde levels tend to be higher in newer travel trailers and mobile homes and during warmer weather.

• Indoor temperature was a significant factor for formaldehyde levels in this study independent of trailer make or model.

• Formaldehyde levels varied by model (mobile homes, park homes, and travel trailers), but all types of trailers tested had some high levels.

• At the levels seen in many trailers, health could be affected.

After Mr. McGeehin presented his findings, he was flooded with angry questions from the residents concerning access to medical care immediately, housing and long term health affects. The many FEMA representatives who were present at the meeting refused to make a statement at the podium and residents were directed to speak with them in private at the side tables set up for that purpose. Mr. McGeehin also told residents that there were doctors and medical staff present from the CDC who would speak to individual residents about their health problems.

The CDC presented the following recommendations for public health officials pursuant to its study:
• The conclusions support the need to move quickly to relocate trailer residents before the warmer weather of summer, placing highest priority on those who are symptomatic and/or especially vulnerable.
• Appropriate follow-up will require multi-agency collaboration including FEMA, HUD, CDC, and others, to achieve safe, healthy housing for people displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who continue to live in FEMA-supplied travel trailers and mobile homes.
• FEMA should consider necessary assistance to Louisiana and Mississippi Health Departments to ensure adequate follow-up, including medical needs, for trailer residents with health and medical concerns resulting from residence in FEMA-supplied travel trailers or mobile homes and formaldehyde exposure.
• FEMA should consider establishing a registry and long-term health monitoring of children and others who resided in FEMA-supplied travel trailers and mobile homes in the Gulf Coast Region.

The CDC and FEMA are holding several other similar meetings across Louisiana over the next few days. We recommend that you attend these meetings and ask the officials hard-hitting questions about existing medical care for trailer residents, long term health affects of formaldehyde, especially in pregnant women and children, FEMA’s plans for housing the 100,000 residents that are soon to be evicted from their FEMA trailers etc.

Tuesday, Feb. 26, noon to 2 p.m., St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church (2300 Crowder Blvd.)

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., St. Anna's Episcopal Church (1313 Esplanade Ave.)

Wednesday, Feb. 27, noon to 2 p.m., Nunez Community College Auditorium (3700 Fenelon St., Chalmette)

Wednesday, Feb. 27, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Joseph S. Yenni Government Building (1221 Elmwood Park Blvd., Second Floor Council Chambers, Jefferson)

Thursday, Feb. 28, noon to 2 p.m., Lake Charles Civic Center (900 Lakeshore Drive, Contraband Room, Lake Charles)

Thursday, Feb. 28, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Lake Charles Civic Center (900 Lakeshore Drive, Contraband Room, Lake Charles)

The KatrinaRitaVille Express was present at the meeting last night and will be present at many of the other meetings in Louisiana and Mississippi this week.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tracie Washington to Speak at Yale's Rebellious Lawyering Conference - Saturday February 23rd, 2008

The 14th Annual Rebellious Lawyering Conference will be held Friday, February 22, through Sunday, February 24, at Yale Law School.

The annual, student-run conference brings together practitioners, law students, and community activists from around the country to discuss innovative, progressive approaches to law and social change.

This year’s conference will feature more than a dozen panel discussions on such timely topics as minority ballot access, animal rights, environmental justice, immigrant detention conditions, progressive family law, class-action advocacy for the homeless, and the rights of Americans with disabilities.

Tracie Washington will speak on a panel entitled "Seeking Shelter and Protection: Class-Action Advocacy for the Homeless". For more information on the panel please go to:

For more information on the conference please see: http://www.law.yale.edu/news/6122.htm

Get on the Bus or Join LJI in Austin!

Please join LJI in Austin on Thursday February 21st, 2008 for the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate at the University of Texas!

The KatrinaRitaVille Express national FEMA trailer tour is headed to Austin TX for Thursday's CNN Democratic Presidential Debate at the University of Texas.

Inside seating for the 7-8:30 pm debate is closed to the public, but the KatrinaRitaVille Express At 7pm, the debate will be shown live on the side of our 32' trailer.

Displaced residents and folks back home in coastal AL, MS, LA and TX are encouraged to come "bear witness" to the unmet housing, environmental, infrastructure and human rights needs of our region's so-called "recovery."

Free bus transportation and overnight lodging will be provided on a "first come first serve" basis for folks traveling from coastal AL, MS and LA. To reserve space, contact jainey@equityandinclusion.org ASAP. The FEMA trailer will set up nearby for a full afternoon of testimonials, audio-visual screenings, and information-sharing from gulf coast survivors and advocates.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Report on FEMA Trailer Residents in Louisiana Forthcoming

The Louisiana Justice Institute will soon publish a report based on the data that we gathered during our January 2008 FEMA Trailer Survey & Outreach Project. Student Hurricane Network law student volunteers from across the country assisted LJI in carrying out a comprehensive survey and outreach project in early January 2008. The law student volunteers passed out our Local Resource Guide, provided information on HUD and FEMA rental assistance programs and interviewed FEMA trailer residents in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, as well as residents of the Renaissance Village Trailer Park in Baker, Louisiana. The volunteers spoke with over 500 residents total in January 2008.

For some recent media coverage on FEMA trailer residents in Louisiana, please see:

Scientists scrutinize materials used in making FEMA trailers amid ...
International Herald Tribune - France
... meaning they are on fixed incomes and cannot easily find affordable housing, said Tracie Washington, president of the Louisiana Justice Institute, ...

Scientists Closely Examine FEMA Trailers
The Associated Press - Feb 16, 2008
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — While the Federal Emergency Management Agency rushes to move thousands of Gulf Coast storm victims out of government-issued trailers, ...