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Recently NPR's Kathy Lohr spent time along the Mississippi Gulf Coast talking to people who are having two very different experiences with rebuilding. Yesterday she reported on one man in Gulfport who had the money to rebuild his dream house, but many more people are having a harder time recovering from the storm. In Mississippi more than 100,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina are living in FEMA trailers.
Today, Kathy Lohr reports that some FEMA trailer parks have become nasty places where drugs and crime are flourishing.
KATHY LOHR reporting:
In the High Hills FEMA trailer park in Picayune, Mississippi, about 100 white trailers are packed inside a gravel area as the sun beats down on them. It's so dry that the ground is cracked. Dust flies up when anyone drives by. Jerrye Barre rented in the area before Katrina hit. She's lived in a trailer here since February.
Ms. JERRYE BARRE (Picayune resident): A lot of the people here are previous renters and you have a lot of people from St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans area who lost their homes and their community who have basically not been able to go back. But you have a lot of poor people and a lot of the New Orleans area people who just have nothing to go back to.
LOHR: Barre says from the moment she moved in, she's had problems. Especially with one trailer just across the way.
Ms. BARRE: From day one it was like brawling, cursing, the cops coming out for them. It was 3:00 in the morning, you know, fighting, and it was, this became a daily thing. Alcohol and I'm sure there was drugs, too, because of the certain things of people knocking on the door at all times of the night, and when you're sleeping four or five feet away from, and these things, the walls are thin, I mean you can hear everything going on. So that got to be really kind of like, is this home? You know?
LOHR: The stress level in the parks is high, even though many are grateful to have a home. At High Hills one man was killed this year. The Sheriff's department in Pearl River County, where there are six FEMA trailer parks, reports a significant increase in crime from domestic violence calls to drug violations.
Many say they'd like to return to the Mississippi Coast, but they can't because rents there have doubled or tripled since Hurricane Katrina hit and their incomes have not. So they have no choice but to stay here.
Mr. CHUCK FURST (Picayune resident): And you can stand here and watch them. You can watch them go up and down the street and you know, I mean you have to live here to know what's going on, but it's going on big time.
Mr. BAILEY MONEYMAKER (Picayune resident): You missed a dozen trips already since I've been over here.
Mr. FURST: I believe it.
LOHR: Bailey Moneymaker and Chuck Furst stand outside their trailers at another FEMA site in Picayune. They met after they were thrown together here. Moneymaker's wife is ill and Furst, who works for Lockheed's Space Shuttle program in New Orleans, says a few of the neighbors try to look out for each other. As he talks about the children who are out alone at night, a man walks up and whispers to him.
What was that about?
Mr. FURST: That was a drug deal right there.
LOHR: For what?
Mr. FURST: Well, they want to borrow money to go buy Vicodin and they'll have the money back to me in about 20 minutes.
LOHR: Of course Chuck Furst said no, but he says this is the kind of hassle people who live here face all the time.
Mr. FURST: I'll give you an example how bad the drugs are here, okay? I was sitting here one night, I had a knock on my door. Guy came to my door and he wanted to sell me his 27 inch TV for $40. And I said, no I got a TV. Thank you, but no. Ten minutes later he was back. He said I want to sell you my DVD for $40. And I said I got a DVD, no thanks. About ten minutes later he came back for the third time. He said, look, he said, I gotta get some drugs. He said, I gotta get a hit of crack. He said, I'll sell you my wife for $40.
LOHR: Furst says deputies do come out to the trailer park and ride around, but the dealers hide out when they see the cops coming. The Sheriff's Department narcotics unit arrested more than 30 people back in March on drug charges, but they say it takes months of undercover work to set up that kind of operation. Now all but two of those arrested are out on bond and back in their trailers.
Ms. ROXY GREEN(ph) (Picayune resident): I didn't do no drugs.
Major MATT CARL(ph) (Hancock County Sheriff's Department): Yes, you did.
Ms. GREEN: Okay, I did. All right, I did. I ain't arguing with it.
LOHR: In Hancock County, Major Matt Carl questions Roxy Green, who was just arrested at a FEMA trailer park on drug charges.
Major CARL: We had people that I arrested that we made arrests on for buys and stuff that's told me they went through $30,000 in just days time buying crack cocaine and crystal meth.
LOHR: Major Carl says he thinks it comes down to all the federal and state money that was available after the hurricane. FEMA and Red Cross allocated disaster funds and those who had jobs were able to get unemployment checks until June.
Mr. CARL: It's like Christmas out there for some of them. I had one tell me that one time. He said, man, it was just like Christmas. I got my money. He just went right slap through it. And you ought to see the trailer. It's a mess. There's no food and it's dirty, it's nasty, it's tore up. If FEMA takes this trailer, they need to just burn it if they take it back. It's not worth fixing up. They just don't care.
LOHR: In Hancock County, calls for drugs, aggravated assaults, weapons violations and domestic disputes are up about 60 percent since the storm. Informants and undercover officers are working on drug cases, but there are only five narcotics officers to work the whole county.
Some of the suspects are well known. Others have moved in to these cramped trailer parks from far away. That's what upsets many of the locals who are trying to rebuild.
Dr. DAVID SALLS(ph) (Waveland resident): But all these parasites came in here and from all over the country and they're not from here.
LOHR: That's Dr. David Salls, who lives in a FEMA trailer park just outside Waveland, Mississippi.
Dr. SALLS: There's a portion of the population that was here that were just glomming on. There's nothing here in this town. There's nothing. And we don't have the space for people that are not trying to make it themselves. And if you can't make it yourself, then you have no business here. No business at all.
LOHR: Dr. Salls and others along the Mississippi Gulf say they understand the government was trying to help as many people as possible when vouchers and trailers were handed out after Katrina. But next time, they say, someone needs to come up with a better plan to weed out the troublemakers and the drug dealers who've come to live with them in these tiny, packed spaces.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News.
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