Some Baton Rouge flood victims are still living in their garages. Others have been victimized twice: first by the flood and then by robbers seeking what little they have left. And a few are still concerned about flooding from poorly maintained ditches.
What they have in common was their plea at a meeting Thursday night to have a portion of the $11.1 million in flood recovery funds the city-parish is receiving from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development directed toward their needs.
The meeting started with city-parish officials trying to explain their goals to prevent homelessness, to repair some homes and to help landlords of small rental units with the money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. But the gathering soon morphed into a chance for the 80 or so attendees to explain just how hard each had been hit by the floodwaters of August 2016 as they asked for answers and empathized with one another at the Eden Park Branch Library.
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"It sounds like everyone in this room has fallen through little gaps, big gaps," said Michael Acaldo, president and chief executive officer of St. Vincent de Paul Society in Baton Rouge.
"Giant gaps!" someone from the audience added.
Acaldo said homeless shelters have already seen spikes in their population since the floods, and they will not have the space without an infusion of help to continue to accept more of the homeless. Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's newly released plan for the federal money would give $1 million to homelessness prevention.
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The Metro Council will have to approve the plan after Broome's administration finishes gathering public input. Around $5.2 million would help rebuild rental properties, especially smaller ones. And $3.5 million would help homeowners who have worked with the Office of Community Development.
"Eleven million dollars is not going to stretch as far as anyone would like," said Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Rowdy Gaudet.
He and Broome urged the attendees to share their stories with members of Congress, in hopes of convincing them to give more money to flood relief in Baton Rouge.
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While attendees hoped for answers about money to rebuild their homes, city officials mostly referred those questions to the state, but a representative from the state's recovery program was not at the meeting. Broome tried to alleviate some of their concerns, and her staff said they will pass their questions along to the proper officials.
"We tried to get assistance from FEMA, we were denied," said Renee Lee. "We just went back to our house as is. That's sad. We worked day and night for what we had."
Some, like Keith Brown, said they have started rebuilding their flooded homes.
Brown pinned the flood partially on poor drainage. He said his neighborhood in East Dayton rarely sees its ditches cleaned and that water rises in them even after regular rains. He asked Broome for better maintenance of the ditches, and she said she would ask Public Works officials to monitor them.
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Sharon Walker said she has been living out of her garage in Monticello since the floods, adding that she and her neighbors have become the targets of break-ins and crime. She said someone broke into their home and stole valuables, and she asked Broome for more presence from law enforcement.
Broome said she will speak to Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie and East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux about preventing crime in flood-ridden neighborhoods.
Though the city officials could not answer all of the questions Thursday, some attendees said they are just happy to know there might be more help on the way, regardless of whether it's from the city, state or federal government.
"Something's better than nothing," said Shawn Drewery.