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Drugs and Crime Plague FEMA Trailer Park Residents

Jerrye Barre stands in front of her trailer at the High Hills FEMA site in Picayune, Miss.
Kathy Lohr, NPR
Jerrye Barre stands in front of her trailer at the High Hills FEMA site in Picayune, Miss.
The High Hills Emergency Group Site (EGS), a FEMA trailer park in Picayune, Miss. Trailers here are crammed next to one another like eggs in a carton.
Kathy Lohr, NPR /
The High Hills Emergency Group Site (EGS), a FEMA trailer park in Picayune, Miss. Trailers here are crammed next to one another like eggs in a carton.
Chuck Furst says drugs are rampant at the Allison RV Park in Picayune, Miss., where he lives. He says he's worried because there's nothing for the childrren and teenagers to do but get in trouble.
Kathy Lohr, NPR /
Chuck Furst says drugs are rampant at the Allison RV Park in Picayune, Miss., where he lives. He says he's worried because there's nothing for the childrren and teenagers to do but get in trouble.

Thousands of people are trying to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Katrina left them homeless. The government's response to the crisis was to create FEMA trailer parks all over the Gulf Coast.

While the trailers have provided shelter, some trailer parks have become nasty places where drugs and crime are flourishing.

In the High Hills FEMA Trailer Park in Picayune, Miss., the sun beats down on about 100 white trailers packed onto a gravel lot. It's so dry that the ground is cracked. Dust flies up when vehicles drive by.

Jerrye Barre rented in the area before Katrina hit. She's lived in a trailer since February.

Barre says she's had problems from the moment she moved in -- constant exposure to her neighbors' brawling, cursing, fighting, and drug and alcohol use.

"The walls are thin. You can hear everything going on," she says.

Many are grateful to have a home, but the stress level in the parks is high. At High Hills, one man was killed this year. In Pearl River County, the location of six FEMA trailer parks, the sheriff's department reports a significant increase in crime -- from domestic violence calls to drug violations. Many say they would like to return to the Mississippi Coast, but they can't because since Hurricane Katrina, the rents have doubled or tripled and their incomes have not. They have no choice but to stay.

Bailey Moneymaker and Chuck Furst, met in the FEMA trailer park in Picayune where they currently live. Moneymaker's wife is ill and Furst, who works for Lockheed's space shuttle program in New Orleans, says a few of the neighbors try to look out for each other.

"I'll give you an example how bad the drugs are here," Furst says. "I was sitting here one night and got a knock on my door. A guy came to my door and wanted to sell me his 27-inch TV for $40. I said, 'No, thank you…' Ten minutes later, he was back. Wanted to sell me his DVD for $40. I said, 'I got a DVD, no thanks.' About ten minutes later he came back for a third time. He said, 'Look I gotta get some drugs, gotta get a hit of crack, look -- I'll sell you my wife for $40.'"

Furst says dealers hide out when they see the cops coming. In March, the sheriff department's narcotics unit arrested more than 30 people on drug charges, but they say it takes months of undercover work to set up that kind of operation. Now all but two of those arrested are out on bond and back in their trailers.

The law-abiding residents of the Mississippi Gulf trailer parks say they realize that by handing out vouchers and trailers after Katrina, the government was trying to get help to as many people as possible. But next time, they say, someone needs to come up with a better plan to weed out the troublemakers and the drug dealers who've come to live with them in these tiny packed spaces.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Whether covering the manhunt and eventual capture of Eric Robert Rudolph in the mountains of North Carolina, the remnants of the Oklahoma City federal building with its twisted metal frame and shattered glass, flood-ravaged Midwestern communities, or the terrorist bombings across the country, including the blast that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, correspondent Kathy Lohr has been at the heart of stories all across the nation.

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