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Pre-Katrina Renters Find Few Options for Shelter

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RISMEDIA, August 31, 2007–(MCT)–If she had known Aug. 28, 2005, what she knows today, Linda Addison says she would have stayed for Hurricane Katrina in her Bay St. Louis apartment and drowned. Better dead than treated like a bum, better to be at rest than worry each and every day if someone will knock on the door of her FEMA trailer and tell her to move out.

“Don’t get me wrong, I thank God for this trailer, I really do,” said Addision, a 65-year-old who lives on $643 a month in Social Security. “But, I live in constant fear. I don’t know when they’re going to come and say, ‘Well, now next month you gotta ‘ you don’t know. And that’s an awful thing to be faced with. You don’t ever feel secure of where you are.”

South Mississippi residents such as Addison, who had limited resources and lived in rentals before Katrina, are in many cases sinking, mentally at least, from the pressure of just trying to survive. Many homeowners have received federal grant assistance, insurance payments or volunteer labor and materials to rebuild on their property.

Former tenants without property find themselves turned away by agency after agency. And they aren’t seeing any relief yet from programs designed to help, such as tax credits given to developers who will build affordable apartments.

Habitat for Humanity’s Project Hancock County, where Addison stopped in recently, would like to help. They are searching for donated land or any other option.

Habitat’s Wendy McDonald hears about drug addicts living in FEMA trailer parks, but she says plenty of productive members of society are stuck there, too.

“We lost 100 percent of our public housing and many of our apartment buildings accepted vouchers,” she said. “It’s been a staggering loss.”

The high cost of insurance has stifled the affordable housing market.

The disaster certainly has strained Addison’s budget. Although the FEMA trailer is free, her expenses are higher.

Her federally subsidized rent for the apartment cost her only $109 a month. Because she lost her car in the hurricane, she now has a car note and higher insurance payments. Her telephone bill climbed because she must have a cell phone rather than a land line.

To conserve money, she eats only twice a day. A can of kidney beans stretches into two meals of red beans and rice. Forget the sausage.

If she runs out of bread before her monthly check arrives, she picks some up at the food pantry, but she hates feeling like a bum. She’s never had to live like this before.

Addison has been everywhere she can think of trying to find a way out of the FEMA park, a noisy place compared to the apartment complex where she and other senior citizens lived. It’s set to close in January, she said.

“I would sleep on the floor to get away from here if I had an apartment,” she said. “This is the golden years? Lord. It’s like people my age and in my predicament, they just don’t want to deal with you. It’s like they want you to disappear. I wish I could.”

Copyright © 2007, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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