After Katrina: Redefining the Concept of Home

Lisa Cowand

Bay St. Louis, Miss., resident Lisa Cowand stands next to the Christmas tree she put up on the porch of what was once her family home on the waterfront. The concrete porch and its steps are all that remain of this historic home. David Schaper, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Schaper, NPR
Ronald Smith, Deon Coleman and her son Carl

From left, pastor Ronald Smith, Deon Coleman and her son Carl pose in a group in front of the church. Carrie Kahn, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Carrie Kahn, NPR
James Callero

James Callero is eager to get back to New Orleans, but his 13-year-old grandson, Ronnie, is loving his new life in Chicago. Robert Wildeboer hide caption

itoggle caption Robert Wildeboer

Many people mark the end-of-year holidays by heading home to reflect on the past year with close friends and family. But what do you do when the home you knew is no longer there to return to?

That's the question facing thousands of evacuees who lost their homes — and in some cases, their cities — to Hurricane Katrina. In a special half-hour, All Things Considered looks at how these storm victims are redefining the concept of home.

A New Sense of Perspective in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

For the Cowand family of Bay St. Louis, Miss., a small coastal town that lost 80 percent of its houses to Katrina, "home" has become four FEMA trailers, parked side by side in a sort of family compound. The family lost a total of four houses to the storm, including a grand historic home that Lisa Cowand and her husband were preparing to move into just before Katrina hit.

Cowand tells reporter David Schaper that the hurricane put everything in perspective, including the meaning of home. "We don't have our safe haven, if you will, where 'There's no place like home,'" Cowand says. "The logistics are different, but we're all here together and safe."

Longing for Honeysuckle Lane

Residents of Honeysuckle Lane are eager to return to their middle-class neighborhood in New Orleans East. But their homes were badly damaged by Katrina, basic services like water and electricity are still scarce, and many residents remain dispersed.

Robert Siegel has been tracking the residents, who are spread across the country, and their efforts to get back home. He talks with Martin Sawyer Jr. of 7 Honeysuckle Lane about spending Christmas not-quite-at-home in his rental house in Kenner, La. Sawyer lived on Honeysuckle with his father, wife and young daughter. All four are staying together, and spending the holidays together, at the house in Kenner.

Finding Hope in Houston

Houston became home to thousands of Katrina survivors who fled their destroyed homes. One of them was Deon Coleman. During the chaotic evacuation from New Orleans, Coleman was separated from her 14-year-old son, Carl. When she got to the Astrodome in September, Coleman, a recovering alcoholic in her mid-40s, was distraught, distant and harsh.

Then she met Ronald Smith. As Carrie Kahn reports, the pastor of Mt. Calvary New Missionary Baptist Church and his congregation took Coleman in. She was given more than a new home: She was given love and friends and a new life.

Remembrances of a Lost City in Chicago

The Callero family, originally from Kenner, just outside New Orleans, is now living in a second-floor apartment at the Maryville Academy, a former state residential home for troubled youths. Grandson Ronnie Callero, 13, tells reporter Robert Wildeboer that he loves his new school and home.

But Grandpa James Callero is looking forward to returning home. His wife, Sandra, who stayed long enough to see the extent of the damage, says her husband is longing for things that no longer exist.

"He's remembering it in his mind's eye, the way it was before he left," she says. "When he goes back and sees it barren — it looks like a war-torn country."

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