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Rebuilding Lives from a Mississippi Shelter

Forest Jourden sits on his bunk inside the D'Iberville, Miss., Red Cross shelter, surrounded by his belongings.
Kathy Lohr, NPR
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Forest Jourden sits on his bunk inside the D'Iberville, Miss., Red Cross shelter, surrounded by his belongings.
Sabrina Waits, age 12, and her sister Gabrielle, age 3, were living in shelters for two-and-a-half months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home.
Kathy Lohr, NPR /
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Sabrina Waits, age 12, and her sister Gabrielle, age 3, were living in shelters for two-and-a-half months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home.
Tent City in D'Iberville, Miss., where some shelter residents are now being sent.
Kathy Lohr, NPR /
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Tent City in D'Iberville, Miss., where some shelter residents are now being sent.
Sabrina Waits and her brother, Dylan, 2, at the D'Iberville shelter. The Waits family  moved out of the shelter this week and into a trailer home provided by FEMA.
Kathy Lohr, NPR /
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Sabrina Waits and her brother, Dylan, 2, at the D'Iberville shelter. The Waits family moved out of the shelter this week and into a trailer home provided by FEMA.

The Red Cross opened shelters along the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina hit in August. Thousands spent time in them as they sought refuge after the storm took their homes and displaced their families. Many have found at least temporary solutions to their housing problems. But some have lived in a shelter for the past two and half months.

A round wooden table underneath a white tent at the D'Iberville, Miss., civic center is a gathering place for those who live inside the building that has become a shelter. Katrina devastated the town, which lies just east of Biloxi. The people living here are trying to get a handle on why they have been waiting so long for help.

"Now I had a guy from FEMA tell me they are over budget, and that they cannot provide financial assistance anymore, and that's what's getting to me," says Forest Jourden. He's been moved from shelter to shelter, including a high school gymnasium and a cruise ship. The D'Iberville civic center has been his home for the past three weeks. Jourden chose to come to this shelter because he thought he'd have a better chance of getting his life back together here.

"They've got jobs, at least that's what I heard," he explains. "I thought I'd come here and start making $100 a day. I found out that's a myth, but I figured I would come back to D'Iberville, because I lived here for five months, and try to start my life over here. And it's still a struggle, and I'm still trying to find something to get my life started over again."

Jourden was working at Wendy's when Katrina hit, but he says he couldn't get back to work because so much of the Gulf Coast was in ruins. He's single and he admits it's been rough, but it may be the hardest on families who are still without homes.

Gina and Joey Waits, along with their three children, Dylan, 2, and Gabrielle, 3, and Sabrina, 12, occupy a back corner of the shelter at the civic enter.

FEMA has offered the Waits family space on a cruise ship, but Gina says that's out of the question because she has such young children. So Gina, her husband, Joey, who's disabled with a heart problem, the kids and their grandmother have been waiting for a trailer to be set up on their own property. It's less than a mile from the shelter site.

Near the corner of Quaive Road and Beach Bayou, a bulldozer lifts bricks, chunks of sheet rock and even a child's red bicycle from the debris. A house is being torn down across the street from where Gina lived. Her land and most of the area all around it is bare, except for the foundations.

"I mean, it's unreal to even look at stuff like this," says Gina.

Gina says the shock is over, but she says she can't move ahead as long as her family is still living in a shelter, and it's beginning to wear on all of them.

"I pray every night that they bring me a trailer," says Gina. "I told my husband, they can put it on my land and the night they put it on my land, I will buy camp flash lights, and I will sleep in there without lights. Get me out of the shelter so I don't have a nervous breakdown."

This week, Gina got the answer to her prayer. After two-and-a-half months without a home, the family has spent its first nights in their own trailer.

But as the shelter in D'Iberville prepares to close, many others have been moved to a tent city nearby.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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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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