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Residents struggle after Katrina

Where once an Ocean Springs kitchenette apartment cost $300 per month, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has now jacked that price up to $1200 per month.


Where once an Ocean Springs kitchenette apartment cost $300 per month, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has now jacked that price up to $1200 per month.

Because the hurricane wiped out so many homes, families are struggling to find somewhere else to live in the meantime. "There's no affordable housing here," said Amy Bearson, disaster response coordinator at Christus Victor Lutheran Church.

Add to that the hardship of finding decent jobs, and the overall situation is a huge challenge for most. "There are jobs available, but many don't offer any insurance," explained Bearson, whose church is now a home-base for Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster Response (LEDR).

"Many people also lost their cars to the storm, so they can't even get to a job. A single mom can't afford daycare while she goes to work, either - especially if she's displaced."

So Bearson and an army of volunteers for LEDR are providing all the support they can via casework, home repairs and a free medical clinic. The Christus Victor building is busy everyday with activity. Bearson said 200 volunteers are currently staying in the church. Construction workers are kicking up dust while repairing the storm-damaged sanctuary. Volunteers distribute food to at least 160 residents each day.

Volunteers are also providing three meals each day to whoever needs it. The help is expanding, too. A volunteer village down the street houses even more volunteers and some of the church members also take in volunteers during their stay.

"The volunteers do everything," said Bearson. "Some repair homes, others clean the building, some cook - whatever is needed."

Bearson said work is getting done on homes, but the overall need is very daunting. "We finish one home, but then you think about the 83,000 people living away from the Gulf Coast who still aren't able to return. There are another 86,000 in trailers. More than half of the Gulf's population is displaced."

With those challenges, Bearson also worries about the stress levels and emotional health of the residents - especially amongst the elderly. "We're dealing with depression, anxiety. Mental health is a big issue. The suicides are increasing, I can tell by looking at the obituary page. Many elderly can't handle what's happened to their community."

Bearson is a long-time Gulf Coast resident herself, having lived in the Ocean Springs area for 28 years. She expects the recovery to last at least eight to 10 years, and said volunteers are always needed.

For her congregation, the change in mission has been a challenge. Bearson said most are doing alright with this new charge, but many had severe damage themselves.

"At least 25% of our congregation had uninhabitable homes after Katrina," she said. To help those families cope, she said the best way to move forward to is maintain some semblance of the church's life from before Hurricane Katrina.

"Maintaining a sense of normalcy is important. We hold our regular events and church services on their regular days and at their regular times - that's so important."

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Christus Victor Lutheran Church

Lutheran Disaster Response

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