FEMA Moves Trailer Residents to Apartments FEMA has begun its final clear-out of its trailer camps in Louisiana. Thousands of residents are being moved to unfurnished apartments, leaving people scrambling to figure out how they'll pay their part of the new housing.
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FEMA Moves Trailer Residents to Apartments

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FEMA Moves Trailer Residents to Apartments

FEMA Moves Trailer Residents to Apartments

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Some of the long-lasting reminders of Hurricane Katrina are finally disappearing. FEMA is in the process of closing dozens of trailer parks that have housed people displaced by that storm. There are 55 parks left. And today, 13 of those were added to the list of those scheduled to be shut down. All of them are to be closed by the end of May.

Here's - here's FEMA's spokesman, Ronnie Simpson.

Mr. RONNIE SIMPSON (Spokesman, FEMA): This is a very concerted effort to help people help themselves to the next step in their recovery, which is getting out of these small trailers and into a home, into an apartment or a rent house.

BLOCK: Many people say they're more than ready to leave the cramped, formaldehyde-tainted travel trailers. But some say a shortage of affordable housing in the region leaves them nowhere else to go.

NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER: It's Danielle Craig's(ph) 22nd birthday today. But instead of partying, she's packing. Inside the FEMA trailer, where Craig and her three young children have been living for the last two years, are four, large plastic storage bins stacked nearly floor to ceiling.

Ms. DANIELLE CRAIG: Me and my kids have a crate of our own with our clothes. And that's not all of them. It's still accumulating a lot of other things, you know, other clothes and stuff that I still have to pack up.

SCHAPER: The Mount Olive FEMA trailer park in Baton Rouge is supposed to close today. Craig says Catholic charities found her a three-bedroom apartment in a public housing complex at Baton Rouge just a few days ago. But she can't move in yet. She needs money for the security deposit, utilities and she has no furniture. She's asking FEMA to let her stay in her trailer a few more days.

Ms. CRAIG: I'm still not sure. I'm just taking it day by day with the Lord with me. And I know he's on my side, so I know we won't be so-so.

SCHAPER: Because she has a new place, Craig considers herself one of the lucky ones. A few of the other remaining Mount Olive residents say they don't. Paul Smith(ph) says he's still looking for an apartment for himself, his fiancee and their child.

Mr. PAUL SMITH: In a time of holiday season, when everybody's supposed to be happy and celebrating, getting ready for Christmas and enjoying it all, you know, we're in a stressful situation, trying to figure out where in the hell we're going to sleep.

SCHAPER: FEMA's spokesman Ronnie Simpson says no one will be forced out of a trailer with no place to go.

Mr. SIMPSON: As long as they're actively pursuing the next step, we're going to work them as best we can. And if it happens where they're waiting for their apartment to be cleaned or can't get in that day, we'll put them up in a hotel briefly to make sure that they don't fall through that gap.

SCHAPER: Simpson says FEMA counselors are working with residents to find adequate rental housing, and FEMA will pay the first month's rent before turning over the housing cases to HUD, which will continue paying at least a portion of the rent for those who qualify. And charitable organizations have case workers trying to help with security deposits and utilities.

Sam Sammartino, disaster response supervisor for Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge says the needs of many of those being moved out are great.

Mr. SAM SAMMARTINO (Disaster Response Supervisor, Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge): People that are in FEMA trailers or travel trailers, they don't have any furniture. They barely have clothes, some of them. I mean, some of them have been sustained in those trailers now for almost - over two years. And when they leave, it's almost like when they left the city of New Orleans.

SCHAPER: Sammartino says Catholic Charities doesn't have the resources and manpower to keep up with the pace FEMA is setting in moving people out of trailers. And he worries some may fall through the cracks, because many of those who remain in FEMA trailers now are the most difficult to place in rental housing. Some are older or disabled, unfixed incomes or have limited work skills to sustain themselves and their families.

Mr. SAMMARTINO: What really scares me more than anything is we're going to have a huge homeless population because of the astronomical rent rates that's out there and people's ability to make income.

SCHAPER: Sammartino calls this a historic moment in Louisiana's hurricane recovery process. He says if more isn't done to make sure those moving out of FEMA trailers are able to sustain themselves and their families, there could be dire societal consequences in the future.

David Schaper, NPR News, New Orleans.

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