FEMA called today. That’s the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They don’t know how to manage shit. After allowing us to live in this little trailer for three years, and after telling us we could buy it from them for $300 as temporary housing, they called me today to say that there is too much formaldehyde in the trailer and we are ineligible to buy it.
Now, it was safe for us to live in it for three years, but it’s not safe enough to live in for a while longer until we can find another trailer that we can afford. Our government makes a lot of sense. I figure that if it truly is unsafe, whatever I’m going to catch from the formaldehyde exposure is already caught. I just won’t know it until five or ten years from now when the cancer diagnosis comes. So, why the hell can’t they just let me have the thing?
On May 1, 2009, FEMA will come into this trailer park and evict us, lock, stock and barrel. We’ve had offers from so many wonderful people to come live with them, but the point of my objection is this: why should a working person have to be homeless in America??? Why is there no place affordable for me in my community? And what if all the teachers and classroom aides were in my position: who would teach the children?
Things were not good before Katrina. I had been fighting with my estranged husband for a divorce, and for my share of the house. I’d been married to him for 12 years, helped care for his children (which I do NOT regret: I love them dearly), and took care of him when he had the bad luck to be involved in three accidents, none of which were his fault. Did he pay off any of my bills when he got his accident settlements? Hell no. So, I started my new life without him in debt and with no job. I lived with my sister. I finally got a job in the public school system and I loved it, though the pay wasn’t very good. It was a job I felt I was made for.
One of my dear friends and I fell in love, and I moved in with him. Life was good, I felt serene and so very happy. Then on August 29, 2005, everything came tumbling down.
Human kindness saved our lives after Katrina: hundreds of people fed us, clothed us, housed us until we could return home. When we did return home, it was to clean up the mess. We lived in a tent in the yard, had a generator and a microwave. We used the port-o-potties around town to relieve ourselves. We washed with cold water from the hose and had cup-o-soup and hot chocolate or tea for dinner. The Red Cross truck brought us our lunches. We were determined to be a part of the clean up and recovery of our community. It was a hard life that first year, but we did what we had to do.
We applied for everything available, and qualified for very little. Then Eddie became ill and we found out there were many things wrong: he was in stage 3 kidney failure, he had a 75% blockage in his carotid artery, and he had a abdominal aortic aneurysm that is 4.5 cm large. We’re told that they won’t operate on his aneurysm until it gets to 5 cm, because it RARELY dissects until it gets past 5 cm. If it should dissect, he probably would not make it to the hospital. So he had to quit work. We officially dropped from a middle-class to a lower-class income household in a day. It’s been rough. And now, we don’t know where we will go on May 1.
Eddie went to a trailer auction today to try to get us a trailer to live in. He just got the call: he was out bid.
Here in St. Bernard Parish, we may as well be in the Third World. The rich got richer and the middle class disappeared altogether. This is America. How could this happen to working class people? I’ve never needed or particularly wanted a lot of things or money; I’m a woman of simple needs. A roof over my head, food and a job, plus the company of people I love are all I’ve ever needed. Experiences were more important than earnings, and the journey was always more important than the destination. Happiness, to me, is not someplace I’m trying to get to, it’s my mode of travel. I don’t need much. All I want right now is this little FEMA trailer to buy as temporary housing. I want to not live in a tent again. I want Eddie to not fall apart and kill himself, or die of a stroke or heart attack. I want to be here in this parish to continue contributing to the renewal of my community and my beloved New Orleans. This is America, why can’t I do that?
This is America. This is America. This is America.
How the hell is this happening?