Imagine living with no privacy and no room for 15 months. That's how many people who live in FEMA trailers feel. As Keli Rabon, living in a FEMA trailer, while frustrating, has taught one family an important lesson.
Space, comfort, and relaxation are all things many people associate with the idea of home. But Katrina's winds and water washed away the amenities of a traditional home for thousands across Mississippi.
After spending a day with a FEMA trailer family, I discovered no matter how strong the forces of nature were, Katrina couldn't take away the bond that binds a family, even when space is tight.
The scene outside Trailer #620 is calm for now, but inside, the day's hustle and bustle has just begun.
"She's tryin to get up, she don't like getting up," as 10-year-old Brittany Mentor's grandmother tries to wake her up.
Their morning routine isn't all that different from anyone else's. What is different is ten people sharing one 980 square foot FEMA trailer. Even simple tasks, like finding clothes to wear, become complicated quickly.
The kids huddle around the warm drier, because around the corner, the ice cold floors send chills up 5-year-old Jonathan's spine. Clothes found, but it's still a game of cat and mouse getting a turn at a little privacy.
With so many people, mom of the house Venessa Mentor says the monotonous routine is the only way to get by.
"Hurry up boys, you got it? You lost your belt didn't you. Well you need to find your belt, get your socks and shoes. Normally it's crazy, crazy, crazy," Venessa says.
One thing that is missing from the morning routine is man's best friend. A 3-year-old mostly mutt the kids named Sugar, for her gentle temperament and loyal demeanor. But Sugar doesn't play the trusty alarm clock or faithful companion for the kids anymore. Just a few weeks ago, someone shot and beat the dog to death, something Venessa says wouldn't have happened in her pre-Katrina neighborhood.
"I strongly believe that if we didn't live here, Sugar would be alive," Venessa says.
Sugar used to follow the kids to the bus stop, now Venessa keeps a much closer eye on them.
Back in the trailer, Venessa's three and four-year-olds, and a cousin need her full attention.
"Stop fighting over it. You better not hit her again. Sit on the couch," Venessa tells her girls as they argue over a puzzle.
Venessa doesn't have a job right now, but she says taking care of the little ones is full time.
This family is used to togetherness. All ten lived in a larger trailer in Orange Grove before Katrina.
"We lost everything. Clothes, vehicles, our TVs, beds, furniture, everything. It was awful. The whole trailer park where we lived was submerged in water. Everyone in the trailer park lost everything," Venessa says.
Katrina swept away more than just her home, it also took away her sense of privacy. With five kids and five adults sharing a three bedroom, one bath trailer, that adds up to something other than space, comfort, or favorable conditions.
"I could definitely deal with bigger space. It's kinda crowded. Well not kinda, it is crowded. But you've gotta work with what you've got. And right now, this is all we've got,"
When asked if she considers the trailer home, Venessa says, "No, it's not. Well, I mean it is technically, but it's not. I've never thought of this trailer as home. Floors are cold, there's no carpet nowhere. Not really."
"You're not even supposed to be able to hang your pictures up. But I couldn't look at the bare walls," Venessa says.
But memories of happier times are too important to put away in a drawer. Despite the challenges of life today, the family is making the best of what they have.
"There's always people. The kids bring their friends in, and wow, it's amazing sometimes. It's never boring. Never a dull moment, not here," Venessa says.
On rainy days like this one, after school, it's play time and the living room becomes a wrestling ring. That makes homework time for Brittany tough. But she just has to block out the noise.
After the friends have gone home and the homework is done, it's all about being together, even if the space is tight.
"It's family. If you don't have family you don't have nothing right. I would much rather have my family here. This is my whole family. I'd much rather have them here than somewhere else," Venessa says.
This family is just one of more than 30,000 families still living in their FEMA trailers across the coast. It is a tight squeeze for these families. But FEMA estimates that about 250 trailers are vacated each week. That means with each month that passes, thousands of people are reminded what Home is all about.