FEMA trailer park woes

245 calls answered at Avenue A site

from the Sun Herald, Florida

Residents of a FEMA trailer park in Long Beach said the sign was simple enough: "Drugs For Sale Here."

There was even a little arrow underneath, pointing in the direction of the FEMA trailer in which you could supposedly buy the drugs.

The sign hung for at least several hours at the entrance to the FEMA trailer park on Avenue A in Long Beach’s Industrial Park two weeks ago, residents said. It was right about where the private security detail hired by FEMA sat, until a few months ago when they were pulled off the site.

Though residents said authorities eventually removed the sign, the incident represented a large problem for Long Beach police and city officials.

Police Chief Harley Schinker said as of Wednesday, there had been 245 calls to the trailer park since Jan. 1.

The site contains only slightly more than 100 trailers and mobile homes, which means more than 26 percent of the energy expended by the police is going to about 4 percent of the total population.

"Do you think the taxpayers of Long Beach should pay for this?" Schinker asked. "I don’t think so."

Long Beach police have made arrests there for everything from prostitution to drug manufacturing and distribution.

One resident of the park, Emily Barrale, 21, said she even heard a meth lab blew up in the park a while ago, and that is one of the reasons she is so eager to move out with her 2-year-old daughter, Camryn.

"I won’t take her outside," said Barrale, who is the second generation of her family to grow up in Long Beach.

Barrale moved into a mobile home in the park several months ago with her daughter, her sister, Katie Barrale, mother, Mary Barrale, and her grandmother, Carolyn Maxwell.

The family has been trying for months now to move into a FEMA trailer on their slab, even if it means less space for everyone, but have thus far been unsuccessful.

The site itself opened in late November, and city leaders have said repeatedly they agreed to the park because FEMA promised them the park would house nothing but Long Beach and Pass Christian residents. When that did not happen, Long Beach city officials refused to place FEMA trailer parks anywhere else in the city.

Long Beach is not alone in its FEMA trailer park woes. There was a shooting recently in a FEMA trailer park in Biloxi, and several Florida cities still report horror stories from FEMA trailer parks set up two years ago, which they just cannot seem to get rid of.

"It’s an interesting phenomenon," said Eugene Brezany, FEMA spokesman. "We are working our way through this. We’re not going to be doing this forever. We’re certainly open to a discussion on issues that concern police departments."

Part of Schinker’s main concern with the park is people arrested for more-serious crimes and released on bail can simply move right back in.

"They’ve yet to take anyone out of there," Schinker said, adding he has been denied repeated requests to see a list of exactly who is living there. "They’re negligent landlords. They’re not dealing with the problem."

Brezany said FEMA cooperates with police searching for suspects, but it does not give out lists of the people it helps due to privacy concerns.

Anyone who occupies a FEMA trailer or mobile home signs an agreement that has a clause allowing FEMA to remove them not only if they commit a crime in the trailer, but also for violations as minor as noise complaints, Brezany said.

The patience of residents such as Woods and Barrale is wearing thin, and they both said they expect to move on before things get better in Long Beach’s FEMA trailer park.

Schinker said he will do what he can in the meantime, and even recently asked Harrison County Sheriff George Payne to provide assistance on some calls to the park, which Payne agreed to do.

"One of the things we’ve accomplished here is visibility," said Schinker about why crime has dropped so much in Long Beach in the last two years. "My narcotics team is devoting a lot of time and attention to the site."

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