A 10th Birthday in Search of a Home

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Day to Day continues its ongoing series following the saga of Chiquita and Selwyn Smith, who fled New Orleans with their children in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Josh Levs visits the Smiths as they celebrate their son's 10th birthday, despite a delay in moving into a new apartment in Texas.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And now an update on a family from New Orleans we've been following. Selwyn and Chiquita Smith and their children fled Katrina. They where supposed to have moved into an apartment by now after weeks of getting by in hotels, but the move did not happen. And meanwhile, one of their children had a birthday. Joshua Levs reports.

JOSHUA LEVS reporting:

It was going to be the beginning of what the Smiths called a new, normal life. They had lined up a four-bedroom apartment in McKinney, Texas, just north of Dallas. Relief agencies would cover at least the first month's rent. But Selwyn and Chiquita Smith, their three children and a niece found out at the last minute that the move was postponed.

Mr. SELWYN SMITH (Evacuee): The lady called us up and she said that they had a leak in the apartment that was right above our apartment. She said it won't be till, like, October 1st.

LEVS: And that's not a guarantee.

Mr. SMITH: We may just have to go and, you know, try to find another spot just in case something comes up on the 1st, you know, have a backup.

LEVS: That means extending their time at the Best Western hotel where we reached them, and that means applying to FEMA for an extension so the federal government will continue to pick up the tab for the hotel. Chiquita says frustration is becoming their way of life.

Mrs. CHIQUITA SMITH (Evacuee): I mean, everything seems like it's bad. We're just, like, `OK, this is normal now. It's normal for this, for something bad to happen, to go--something to go wrong.' All you can do is take it one day at a time.

LEVS: She says the family is getting stir-crazy staying in two-bed hotel rooms. It helps that the kids are in school now and enjoying it, but once they get back, the family can rarely go places. They get free meals from relief agencies at the hotel. Driving anywhere, like to a park, requires gasoline.

Mrs. SMITH: Everything costs, basically.

LEVS: They're trying to save money for necessities and furniture, and Selwyn may visit New Orleans with other evacuees. He can't wait to check on the shotgun home that the family was just about to move into when Katrina struck. He needs to see what's salvageable and may put the property on the market.

Mr. SMITH: We trying to hold on to it as far as the monies and stuff like that so we can make the trip. So whenever they say, we won't have--you know, without a second thought, we can just roll out and get down there, try to take care of as much as we can take care of.

LEVS: Amid all this, the Smith's youngest child, Tremayne(ph), turned 10.

Mrs. SMITH: He was mad about that, that his birthday was through this Katrina madness. And he just said, `Oh, man, my birthday's going to be through Katrina. I'm not going to be able to get anything.'

LEVS: But he did.

TREMAYNE SMITH (Evacuee): I got a skateboard and skates and a basketball and elbow pads and knee pads and a helmet.

LEVS: And he even had a cake.

SMITH: We ate the cake in the room.

LEVS: Tremayne says it was fun, although he wants to be living in an apartment. The Smiths hope that by his birthday next year, these kinds of conditions will be just a memory. Selwyn and Chiquita are anxious to find work and get their careers going again. In New Orleans, he was a loan officer; she was a hairdresser. But Chiquita says right now their lives are too disheveled for a job search.

Mrs. SMITH: I'm pretty sure we'll find jobs. It's just a matter of getting together, getting ourselves together.

LEVS: Chiquita and Selwyn say they try to stay optimistic about the future. They keep in mind that in some ways, they're among the lucky ones and that things could have been much worse. For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs.

BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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