Thursday, August 31, 2006

Holdin' on

NEW ORLEANS, LA. -- Reginald Halsey is a nice-looking, compact man of some 50 years, perhaps -- dark-skinned with greying hair, his two front teeth rimmed in gold. His bus driver's uniform is pressed just so.

Your blogstress met Mr. Halsey on Monday, when he helmed the motor coach that followed a group of Democratic congressmen and congresswomen as they toured sites that offered clues to the state of things in the New Orleans area in the year that has passed since Hurricane Katrina had her way with the city.

After we traveled through the Ninth Ward -- the site of the worst flooding during Katrina -- and St. Bernard Parish, we found ourselves stopped at a light on the London Avenue Canal. "This here canal," he said quietly, to no one in particular, "is the one that took my house."

As we continued through his neighborhood in line with the bus full of congresspeople, Mr. Halsey became a tour guide of his own journey. We passed a number of boarded-up commercial establishments. "Taco Bell -- gone," he said. "Popeye's -- gone." We passed an empty lot. "My favorite grocery store -- gone."

Today, Mr. Halsey lives in FEMA trailer, but tomorrow, he has no idea where he'll hang his hat.

"It's my friend's trailer," he explained, "but his daughter just had her baby and she's coming out of the hospital and needs a place to live. So I've got to move out."

For reasons no one can explain, Mr. Halsey cannot get FEMA to provide him a trailer, even though his house is unihabitable and all of the required services -- electricity, sewers, etc. -- have been restored to his neighborhood. (As I noted in this post, FEMA will not place trailers in neighborhoods, such as the lower Ninth Ward, that have no public utilities.)

"This lady on my block, they gave her a trailer, and she's not even using it. It's just sitting there," he said.

He left his wife and children in Atlanta with relatives, Mr. Halsey did, in order to hold on to his job with Louisiana Coaches, Inc., a charter bus company. When, a year ago, the waters began to rise, Mr. Halsey was pressed into service, he said, to move, via motor coach, a group of immobile elders from a New Orleans nursing home to one in Amite, 75 miles north of the city. He put his family on that bus with the nursing-home patients, but when he arrived in Amite, there was no room at the inn, so to speak. None of his charges could walk, and there were not enough beds for them at the Amite facility. Waiting for the powers that be to find an alternative facility, Mr. Halsey and his family lived on his bus for four days, until word came to bring the elders to a nursing home in Crowley, another 140 miles west of Amite.

Today, Reginald C. Halsey is employed, homeless and missing his family.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: