Katrina evacuees struggle to find affordable housing

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana on Aug. 29, Kelly had no idea how intense the storm would become. Winds whipped through her home, tearing up the roof and walls, and breaking windows. For five days, she did whatever she could to keep her family safe and fed. “Water was the main thing. It ran out fast,” she said. The 43-year-old mother of four used a barbecue grill to cook what food she had. When that was gone, she and neighbors took supplies from a corner store that had been abandoned. At night, her street was pitch black and she worried about looters. With her children, grandchildren and several neighbors, Kelly loaded up her Ford Explorer and Mazda Protege and went in search of a safe place to regroup. “The plan was for me to get somewhere to think. To analyze the situation.” WHITTIER – Schewon Kelly doesn’t want this to be a sad story. But for more than two months, she’s been a refugee. A victim. An evacuee. “It doesn’t feel good to be called a refugee,” she said. “We know what that is. It’s someone from somewhere with nowhere else to be.” Until last week, Kelly was homeless in Los Angeles and the nearby area for more than two months, living with family members and people she doesn’t know, but who were willing to help. With 11 others, she came to Los Angeles about a week after the hurricane hit. She stayed with her brother. Since then, Kelly’s family has scattered across the country with relatives, and Kelly struggles to regain the stability and identity she had before Hurricane Katrina hit the home she rented in Gretna, La. After seeking help for weeks while living in a Los Angeles homeless shelter, Kelly contacted Catholic Charities, and met the Rev. Roger Labont of St. Paul of the Cross Church in La Mirada. He and his congregation had collected money to sponsor a hurricane evacuee. “I had so many doors slammed in my face,” she said. “I’m displaced. I’m not on vacation. I didn’t come here because I want to be here. Two thousand dollars ain’t no money to put your life together.” She received about $3,000 from FEMA and the Red Cross, most of which she used to send her children to her sister’s home in Chicago. The real help came from St. Paul of the Cross Church. “We’ve tried to preserve her dignity,” said Donna Ponce, who heads the church’s Hurricane Katrina committee. “She’s just a human being who needs help.” Ponce quickly found that helping a hurricane evacuee is easier said than done. While philanthropists around the country pooled their resources to help those displaced by the storm, Ponce struggled to rent an apartment for Kelly. For six weeks, while Kelly worked in a J.C. Penney warehouse, Ponce filled out applications, wrote letters and visited homes for rent in the Whittier area. She submitted applications to 18 homes, and drove more than 150 miles in the search. At each place, she was turned away. “One lady told me the house was no longer for rent because she already found someone,” said Labont . “We called the next day, and found out it was actually still open.” In mid-November, their application was accepted at a home in Whittier. Now, they are collecting furniture donations to fill the home. In the next few months, Kelly hopes to bring her two youngest children, who are in high school, back to Whittier to live with her. Now, she looks forward to feeling like herself again as a mother and head of her household. She hopes to get back into construction, but is now working in a warehouse. “I’m just now starting to feel pretty again,” she said. “The most important thing now is getting my head straight. When am I going to stop jumping from place to place?” To donate to St. Paul of the Cross Church’s Hurricane Katrina committee, call (562) 921-2914. sandy.mazza@sgvn.com (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3026160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *