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The Miami Herald
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News
November 13, 2006 Monday

Alone, forlon after the storm: FOR HURRICANE WILMA VICTIMS STILL LIVING IN FEMA TRAILERS, FINDING A PERMANENT HOME IS AS FRUSTRATING AS BEING HOMELESS

BYLINE: Natalie P. McNeal, The Miami Herald

Almost half the people who moved into FEMA trailers in Broward County after losing their homes to Hurricane Wilma are still there, more than a year later.

Some have lost their jobs. Some are too sick to work. Most are struggling to find a permanent home in a region of unaffordable home prices.

"Watching everyone else move on is hard," said Cindy Rust, 42, who has lived a government-issued trailer in C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines since December after her own mobile home blew apart in the storm. "I still haven't found a place."

After the Oct. 24, 2005, hurricane, FEMA hooked up 424 trailers at five sites around Broward -- C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines; Easterlin Park in Oakland Park; Palma Nova and Sunshine Village, both in Davie; and Aztec Estates in Margate. Now 210 are still occupied. FEMA officials say they must leave C.B. Smith Park, and by the end of the month only about six victims should need to be housed at alternative sites.

Rust has watched the number of trailers at the park dwindle from 59 to 15.

"It's getting lonely here," said Rust, who has two pit bulls to keep her company. The former restaurant hostess is unable to work because of a back injury and gets $488 a month in disability checks. She also suffers from depression and had to have a kidney removed because of cancer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer park inside C.B. Smith is trying to place residents by the end of this month. So Rust and the others there will have to move -- to either another FEMA park -- or out on their own.

"I'm hoping to find something on my own that I can afford and will take my dogs," said Rust, who has applied for subsidized housing. "I'm getting tired of living like I'm camping. I don't want to be ungrateful, but I want my life like it was before."

FEMA representatives said the trailers would be available for up to 18 months -- until April 24. They regularly work with residents to make sure they are looking for housing.

But, their personal problems deter the housing hunt.

"I don't know where I will go," said Robert Dressler, 56, who lives at The Aztec site.

Before the storm, he took care of his mother, living in her Sunrise Lakes condominium. The storm wrecked the condo.

His mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, moved to an assisted-living facility. He lived in his car before moving into a FEMA trailer.

He has since become ill with chronic pancreatitis and has been hospitalized several times. He lost his truck-driving job and is living off unemployment checks.

"I've always been able to deal with things, but this is too much," said Dressler, whose condition is incurable. "I can't even work now."

Monica Byrne Henry, 44, lived in a Hallandale Beach mobile home before Wilma. Now she's at Easterlin Park and determined not to move into public housing. Henry qualified for a federal certificate program administered in Hollywood that let hurricane survivors move to housing that would be paid for two years.

But when she went to claim the benefit in August, the money had run out, she was told.

Tim Schwartz, executive director of Hollywood's housing authority, said this summer his agency was able to help 14 hurricane families with $400,000 in federal money.

Meanwhile, Henry says she's miserable in the Easterlin Park, where she says she doesn't feel safe living in the woods.

"I just feel like they are letting us languish here," she says.

 

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