By Briley Richmond
Ocean Springs, MS
Sunday, October 21, 2007
The Mississippi Press
A 6-year-old child, Blake Pendergrass, was struck and killed by an automobile in Escatawpa the other day. Escatawpa is about 20 miles from my home in Ocean Springs. I didn't know him. I would imagine something like that happens somewhere in America every day -- at least every week. But this one hurt me. Hurt me bad. You see, the little boy lived in a FEMA trailer park -- a Katrina FEMA trailer park in Escatawpa. Escatawpa is -- well, if you were plotting out a Monopoly board, it ain't Boardwalk. It's more like one of the purples right past "Go" -- you know, the ones where the rent for landing on the space is $2.00.
I visited the scene where Blake was killed. The park in which he lived has no playground. Blake was killed while he was crossing the street attempting to get to his "playground." The trailers are stacked in compactly, like sardines in a can. There is no room for a playground, just trailers. And more trailers. All identical. That's how you identify a FEMA trailer park. The trailers have no amenities -- no "identities." Every one is just the same. Twenty-four feet long. Eight feet wide. White. Stacked right together. No thought is given to the children. No parks, no playgrounds, no sidewalks -- the park just screams, "You're just a bunch of poor kids and we don't care."
Immediately across the street from the trailer park sits an abandoned convenience store, complete with a parking lot -- unused. The children of the trailer park have adopted the parking lot as their unofficial playground. Only to get to it they have to cross the street. The "street" is a highway. So 6-year-old Blake Pendergrass was killed while crossing the highway to get from his FEMA trailer home to his abandoned parking lot playground. And on that same day our governor, Haley Barbour, was busy taking $600 million that the people of this nation gave to my community for housing for Katrina victims, people just like little Blake, and turning it over to the business interests at the port of Gulfport, about 30 miles away -- so Dole Pineapple and other multi-million dollar business entities could have that money instead of Blake. You think maybe the people of this nation expected the money given for housing following Katrina would be given to Blake, and not Dole Pineapple?
The people of this great nation gave the victims of that horrible storm $5 billion so we could provide housing for the children like Blake. But it hasn't happened that way. Five billion dollars is enough money to buy 60,000, $80,000 homes -- we lost 65,000 homes (and yes, one can still buy a home for $80,000 in Mississippi). I invite you to drive around my community and I ask you if you see anything that looks remotely like 60,000 homes. Or 30,000 homes. Or even 10,000 homes. Our governor has been so busy passing out money to his friends and cronies, he has managed to build not a single home to cover the needs of a child like Blake -- and there are thousands of children in just the same situation as Blake. The governor gave a lawyer friend of his in Moss Point $1 million. Northrup-Grumman, a major defense contractor was given $250 million. The Hancock Bank, our largest, got the benefit of hundreds of millions. The business entities at the port of Gulfport, $600 million. All diverted from the funds intended to provide housing for Katrina victims.
There are flowers on the side of the road marking the spot where little Blake was killed -- a tribute of sorts I guess. I started crying when I saw them. Oh the horror, the horror. I'm so sorry little fella. I've tried so hard. I've written letters to the editors of dozens of newspapers. I've called Congressmen, Senators. But I am an old man now -- I am tired -- and for the first time in my life I have to own up to it -- I am beaten -- I have failed. I am so sorry Blake. My governor went to Washington, D.C., and got $5 billion. But all he got for you was those damn flowers.