Elderly Feel Like The Forgotten Victims Of Katrina

In the almost 21 months since Katrina, south Mississippi has gone from being a retirement mecca to a community that's struggling to meet the needs of its seniors. The three coastal counties lost hundreds of affordable places for seniors to live. And more will close in the coming months.

Those closings rattled a few nerves inside the Lyman Senior Center on County Farm Road.  That's where a tired and sometimes overwhelmed Beverly Troth cut squares for a new quilt.

"It's been an adjustment," the 65-year-old said, referring to the lifestyle change she's endured since Hurricane Katrina came ashore. "There's a lot of depression trying to start over when you have nothing to start over with."

Just when Troth thought she could enjoy the golden years of her life, Hurricane Katrina cut apart her Orange Grove home. Since then, she's seriously thought about leaving the community.

"Yes I have," she admitted. "And you know I thought I can't go through this anymore. Somebody should be looking after me instead of me trying to get my life started, because I'm at the age now where I should be kicked back in retirement really enjoying myself and life."

So why did she decide to stay?

"I like the people down here," she said.

Katrina dealt a terrible blow to so many people on fixed incomes. Ginny Bair is 61-years-old.

"We just don't have anything anymore. We don't have us anymore," Bair thought. "I've lost my freedom. I've lost my independence. My ability to just be me. And so many of my friends have, too."

Bair was at the north end of the senior center playing Pokino. Around her were about a dozen retirees. They were all impacted in some way by World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. It made you realize how much history these eyes have seen. It made you appreciate how many times the chips were down, yet these seniors somehow survived.

"I've been through 9/11, Kennedy, how many other things, how many other things? The bombings, the hijackings, the plane hijackings all the time and everything," thought Bair.

But none of those events compared to Katrina.

"No, this is the worst I've ever been through. I hope I never have to see anything like that again," she said.

Katrina shuffled the deck in such a way that living comfortably in retirement virtually became impossible. First, retirees lost their homes. Three significant senior living complexes near Harrison County's waterfront either had to shut down, or they're about to be converted into condos. And similar plans are popping up all the time in other areas as well.

On top of that, the cost of living has taken a bigger bite out of the fixed incomes retirees live off. Ginny Bair gets $900 a month. And that doesn't pay for very much these days. Suddenly, this 61-year-old is getting very tired of all the worrying she must do about her bills, and her quality of life.

"I feel like it sometimes. But you know what, it's a storm. And it's not going to get me," she confidently said.

The senior center has sort of become Bair's salvation. There aren't as many people here as there were a couple of years ago. Some seniors escaped the storm and never came back. Others passed away. The one's who stayed are determined to win a Pokino game, and beat Katrina.

"I'm going to make it. I'm going to be all right. One way or another, God willing, and the creek don't rise, I'll be here," laughed Bair.

For years, Harrison County has recruited seniors to retiree along the coast. Despite Katrina and all of the financial burdens it's placed on seniors, that program is still very active. As a matter of fact, the director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Retiree Partnership says inquiries from older Americans interested in moving to south Mississippi seems to be going up every day.