Four-year-old Myana Smith was evacuated from New Orleans's Sixth Ward during Hurricane Katrina when she was seven months old, and when she sees a helicopter flying over, she still raises her hands and says, "Help."
Myana sat in her grandmother's Houston apartment on a recent afternoon, in the one splash of sunlight coming through a sliding glass door, surrounded by trash and moving boxes, bouncing a soccer ball against the wall. At one point, she pushed away the ball and said, "I'm scared."
Myana, along with her mother and grandmother, Eugenia and Quiana Brown, have to leave their home again. Management at the Kensington Club Apartments near I-10 and Dairy Ashford, which receives thousands of dollars from the Harris County Disaster Housing Assistance Program on behalf of Katriana evacuees, is evicting the family. About a dozen other families who were evacuated from New Orleans during Katrina, living at Kensington Club, face the same fate.
"I used to be middle class, but now I'm below class," Eugenia Brown tells Hair Balls. "I feel like we've been herded and moved around like cattle."
Eugenia, who worked as a nurse in New Orleans, and Quiana, who was in nursing school before Katrina, are perplexed by people who expect them to be self-sufficient in just four years after losing everything. Quiana has worked at Goodwill, Taco Cabana and currently works at Wendy's.
"It hurts when your child asks you why we don't have a place to live, or why we don't have anything," Quiana says. "Sometimes I just cry and cry and can't stop. I don't know why I've been dealt this hand."
Eugenia Brown's home was not flooded during Katrina, because she lived in a second floor apartment. But she was told to leave by an armed officer, she says, and got separated from her daughter and granddaughter, who were wading through chest-deep water to catch a bus to Texas. Eugenia flew to Arkansas and eventually Arizona, where she lived for several months, obtaining a license to practice nursing in that state. Her daughter was evacuated to San Antonio, and after the Eugenia and Quiana found each other through the Internet, they relocated to Houston because Quiana had friends here.
"That was the biggest mistake of my life," Eugenia Brown says.
Still receiving FEMA assistance, the family moved into an apartment on the city's northwest side. When the county's Disaster Housing Assistance Program replaced FEMA rent subsidies, the family had to leave that apartment and moved to the Kensington Club Apartments.
A representative from that program has not responded to our questions.
But according to Eugenia, who moved into the apartments in February 2008, the complex has repeatedly posted eviction notices on her door for unpaid rent or unpaid utilities (utility payments are made directly to the complex) despite receiving the federal money. The electricity in Brown's apartment has been cut off by the complex about half a dozen times, and if she doesn't have the money to turn it back on, she says, apartment management has told her to go to local churches to ask for cash.
In fact, one church, St. John's Vianney Catholic Church, stopped giving money to residents of Kensington Club, because "there had been some problems," according to a representative from the church. But, she said, the church has started giving money to residents there again.
Unfortunately, no one from the Kensington Club Apartments or the owner, Mikob Properties, Inc., would talk to us or return our calls. We also didn't hear back from Mark Sanders, the attorney who represents Mikob Properties.
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But the place has definitely had its problems. In a letter from the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, dated August 19, 2008, an inspector found 14 things wrong in Eugenia Brown's unit, including a buckling wall, multiple water leaks, and an A/C that didn't work, along with a non-functioning thermostat.
The letter states that if repairs weren't made, the unit could cease receiving federal money. The apartment was still in bad shape when Hair Balls visited, but, Eugenia Brown says, the disaster assistance program continues to send money.
"They say New Orleans is crooked, but this place has us beat," Eugenia says.
On September 1, Eugenia traveled to City Hall to speak with the mayor, but since the disaster housing program is county-run, the mayor told her he couldn't do anything about it. The family was supposed to be out of the Kensington Club apartment on August 31, Eugenia says, but it has not been forced to leave.