Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dirty Little Secrets

I usually try to remain upbeat when talking about rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. You see more and more of them as the FEMA parks are emptied out. They are the ones you tend not to make eye contact. They are the homeless. Some are drug addicts. Some are alcoholics. But most are working poor who can no longer find affordable housing. Some are the elderly who live on fixed incomes.

Before Hurricane Katrina, an apartment could be found for $400 a month rent. Now you are lucky if you can find one at $800. Many of of the low-income housing was decimated by Hurricane Katrina. Biloxi's Back Bay Place was set to open just before Hurricane Katrina. All the units had to be repaired and two years later, it is now open.

Food prices, housing costs, and fuel costs are putting on more pressure. I haven't looked up the statistics but someone who was transferred to here from Las Vegas said it is cheaper to live in Vegas.

Part of the problem of rebuilding low-income housing is NIMBY. Time after time, I read about city council meetings where homeowners always say the location is not appropriate.

The Mississippi Development Authority wants to use $600 million to expand the Port of Gulfport. Proponents say 5,000 jobs will be created. But where will the people needed for those jobs live?

Hurricane Katrina literally wiped out volunteer programs that people could once turn to. Back Bay Mission is up and running. But many, like Feed My Sheep still have no place to help.

Most of the FEMA parks are to be closed sometime next year. As each FEMA park has closed, there are more homeless. Biloxi has done a Herculean task to reopen its subsidized housing. Gulfport lags far behind and the problem is exacerbated by not in my backyard thinking. People tend to think of low-income housing as a haven for drugs and crime. In fact, the majority who live there are the working poor.

While prices of everything have gone up, wages have gone up as well. The increase in wages, many times, still does not make up for the increase in the costs of living. The lack of low-income housing, the higher costs of living, the decimation of the support system to help those in need, and not in my backyard are the Coasts dirty little secrets. And no one wants to look the homeless in the eye. They are non-entities and someone elses problem. I fear there will be many, many more homeless in six months time as the FEMA parks shut down.

Before Hurricane Katrina, I never really saw the homeless. Now, there are too many to ignore.

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