BATON ROUGE, La. — Two months ago, as he left the trailer park he called home after Hurricane Katrina, Alton Love, 41, just knew he was on the brink of getting a working car, an apartment and a good job to support the 9-year-old daughter he is raising on his own. Doris Fountain was in a comfortable hotel, waiting on a water heater and an air-conditioner for her once-flooded house in New Orleans.
Matthew Bailey had just received his first check — $48 — for selling diet products via the Internet, a source of income he insisted would ultimately pull in $5,000 to $20,000 a month.
Their plans, the fragile products of battered optimism, have been derailed by bureaucratic obstacles and the evacuees’ own tenuous abilities to cope.
Mr. Love is living in an apartment paid for by an agency for the homeless but has no job or transportation. Ms. Fountain, still at the hotel, has the appliances, but new problems have cropped up at the house, including sparking electrical outlets and a strong odor of sewage. Mr. Bailey has moved to a studio apartment paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but is still paying far more for his membership in the Internet company than he is earning.
“Hopefully things will pick up, though,” Mr. Bailey, 43, said. “That’s the way I see it. Things are bound to pick up.”
At the end of May, the doors closed at Renaissance Village, the FEMA trailer park outside of Baton Rouge that had been home to hundreds of families, its end hastened by an official acknowledgment of unhealthy levels of formaldehyde in the trailers. Those who were left at the park at the end, most of whom were among the neediest of the evacuees, began moving out on their own.
In light of the early promise that the recovery from the hurricane would provide the chance to address New Orleans’s social ills, the farewell to the trailer park might have been an opportunity for a fresh start, with families fortified by more than three years of government support and charity programs. But when the park closed earlier than expected, government planners said they were left unprepared.
State and federal officials blamed each other for the plight of those whose mental limitations, physical afflictions or addictions, exacerbated by their exodus, have kept them from taking advantage of what help was available. Now those people have left their cramped quarters behind but taken their problems with them.
Support systems have been slow to catch up. Red Cross money for necessities like furniture, work clothes and, in some cases, cars, ran out just as Renaissance Village and most of the other trailer sites were closing, and many residents are making do with nothing but a mattress. A contract for case managers who helped evacuees get back on their feet ended in March, and a new case management pilot program is still in the planning stages almost three years after the storm.
“I know we’re behind the eight ball,” said Paul Rainwater, the executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. “People talk about recovery, but on one level, we’re still responding.”
The problems these families face are complex. Ms. Fountain, 65, could afford to fix the faulty repair work at her house if she had an award from the state’s Road Home program for homeowners. But Ms. Fountain’s husband of three decades died in 2007, and she cannot get the money until she can establish that the house is rightfully hers, a process that costs upward of $1,500. The legal service hired by the state to help low-income people with such issues has a long waiting list.
Meanwhile, Ms. Fountain, still in the Baton Rouge hotel, still grieving for her husband and worried about a son who has just been deployed to Iraq, has given in to incoherent fits of anger. Only recently, the lap dog she got after her husband’s death had to be euthanized.
“She’s had mental issues to break out before,” said Ms. Fountain’s daughter Jean Marie Selders, who is living with a friend in New Orleans and saving part of her paycheck to help with her mother’s house. “The longer it takes, the more distorted she gets.”
Many evacuees are not easy to help, especially when their situations are at least partly the products of their own bad decisions. Take Mr. Love, who back in May jauntily said, “I don’t have no sorrows.” Now, he is at what he calls an all-time low.