Caretaker pursues trailer for handicapped family

South Mississippi Sun Herald

Friday 23 December 2005, 5:53 pm

by Anita Lee

BAY ST. LOUIS - The road home after Hurricane Katrina has been chaotic for the mentally handicapped Holden family and their caretakers. The Holdens know a hurricane destroyed their house, but they do not understand why they can't go home.

Their caretaker, Barbara Foreman, has been trying for months to get the Holdens a FEMA trailer.

Because the Holdens are mentally handicapped, Foreman thought they would go to the head of the list for temporary housing. But they're still waiting.

They visited the FEMA Disaster Relief Center in Waveland a week ago. They've been there a dozen times or more. This day, they sat once again to face a FEMA worker who checked their information in the computer. He had Foreman down as a Spanish-speaking renter, rather than an English-speaking homeowner. The information will be corrected only after she brings in proof that she owned her home.

FEMA determines whether someone needs a trailer and if it can be placed on their property; the agency contracts with Bechtel to deliver and set up trailers.

This is what one of the FEMA workers told Foreman: "It's a slow process. It's coming. What can I tell you? I submitted every piece of paperwork you gave me. Once it comes to us, it goes to Bechtel, then it's out of our hands. You need to go talk to (Rep.) Gene Taylor or (Sen.) Trent Lott. Once it comes election time, you can boot them out."

Sid Melton, FEMA's mobile home operations chief in Mississippi, said Maryetta Holden's file does not indicate that she and her children are mentally handicapped.

The Holdens had flood insurance because the house is in a flood zone, but the insurance company has not agreed to pay their claim, so there's little money for repairs.

Barbara Foreman plans to persevere with the insurance claim and FEMA. But she often feels overwhelmed. "All I get is promises and stalls," Foreman said. "It's not that I haven't been trying. I've sure been trying."