Katrina Homeless in Search of Trailers

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 8, 2006; 6:54 AM

CHALMETTE, La. -- It has been 11 months since Hurricane Katrina hit and Janice Tambrella still does not have a home. She doesn't even have a trailer of her own.

Tambrella is currently jammed in with 10 other relatives in a single trailer delivered to a luckier relative. Sleeping on the floor, living out of cars surrounded by overgrown grass and storm-felled trees, she sighs, "I need a place to stay."

Nearly 1,200 St. Bernard Parish families are still waiting to get into trailers that sit locked on their home sites but need utilities or other services; another 400 families waiting for trailers have none at all, FEMA said.

St. Bernard Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez is often the one people ask for help. While he doesn't have the authority to get them trailers, they figure it's worth asking him since countless calls to the Federal Emergency Management Agency have failed to help.

"The trailer situation is ridiculous," he said.

In this parish adjoining New Orleans, virtually no one was spared massive flooding from storm surge and breaks in the flood control system; all but a handful of the 27,000 homes belonging to mostly working-class residents were inundated with water. Almost none are yet repaired.

FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said he understands people are frustrated with the wait but workers are filling requests as fast as they can. He notes the agency has provided housing assistance to more than 900,000 people regionwide since Katrina. Most years, the agency handles only 2,000 to 3,000 people.

"If you look at the sheer numbers, we've been very successful," he said.

For others, the stress is overwhelming.

Clarence and Rosemary Balgio, an elderly disabled couple, can no longer afford the rent for an apartment in another town where they've been living.

Their son, Donald Balgio, and his sister have tried to help the Social Security-dependent couple navigate the paperwork needed to keep rental aid and get a trailer. So far, they've either received conflicting advice or have been promised help that never materializes.

"They don't know what's going to happen day to day," said Donald Balgio. "Nobody knows what to do."

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