As trailer parks close, Katrina victims struggle to stay afloat

The closing of FEMA trailer parks, hastened by unhealthy levels of formaldehyde in the trailers, has highlighted continued problems faced by Katrina evacuees three years after the disaster: the lack of affordable housing, inadequate social safety nets, and the risk of falling into homelessness.

The New York Times reports:

The closing of Renaissance Village, near Baton Rouge, and the other remaining FEMA parks represents the final chapter in one of the largest and most tumultuous efforts by the federal government to provide emergency housing to a displaced population. Over the course of two years and nine months, the Federal Emergency Management Agency put up 9,000 families in trailer parks scattered around the Gulf area, where residents endured cramped, inadequate and often poisonous conditions.

Some evacuees have moved out of the parks and have gone on to find other housing, but many of those suffering from disabilities seem likely to fall into homelessness. The Times, in a series that follows some of the last residents of the Renaissance Village trailer park as they make a difficult return to life on their own, reports that government planners were left unprepared to deal with the needs of many of these disabled evacuees, some of whom suffered from "mental limitations, physical afflictions or addictions." According to the Times:

Support systems have been slow to catch up. Red Cross money for necessities like furniture, work clothes and, in some cases, cars, ran out just as Renaissance Village and most of the other trailer sites were closing, and many residents are making do with nothing but a mattress.

"I know we're behind the eight ball," Paul Rainwater, the executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, told the Times. "People talk about recovery, but on one level, we're still responding."

Local charities and nonprofits are trying to fill in some of the gaps, but many struggle to keep Katrina victims from falling through the cracks. Groups such as the Homeless Alliance and the Community Initiatives Foundation are part of a consortium of agencies trying to keep those ineligible for FEMA assistance from becoming homeless.