When state officials dropped off a 30-foot Olympia travel camper in the Bayou Gauche yard of Melissa Jeansonne and her husband Keith on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2021, it was like being thrown a lifeline.
Ever since Hurricane Ida ripped the roof off of their mobile home in late August of that year, the couple had spent nights huddled under a section of roof that remained, sleeping on a mattress that they sometimes would stand up to stop it from getting wet.
“It’s a cliche, but it was kind of a weight off your shoulders,” Jeansonne said of the trailer’s delivery. “It was a big relief.”
The camper came from a state program known as Ida Sheltering, which was quickly started as a way to help people left homeless by the storm cope while they tried to get FEMA housing or some other temporary place to live.
As another hurricane season is set to begin June 1, state leaders are also hoping to incorporate the lessons learned from Ida Sheltering into future storm preparations.
“We didn’t have any kind of blueprint for this one because we had never done it before,” said Mike Steele, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, or GOHSEP. “This is a possible tool to be used in the future based on what we learned.”
Some elements of the program have already been repurposed in response to recent tornados, he noted.
Under the Ida Sheltering program, more than 5,300 trailers were delivered, and more than 15,000 Ida-affected residents would be housed by the program, Steele said.
But Ida Sheltering was always envisioned as a temporary solution. And at the end of this month, the state is shuttering it, meaning. Jeansonne and thousands of other state residents still in the campers are being strongly encouraged to find alternatives.
Jeansonne said she always knew the program would end, but she was still caught off guard.
“We weren’t notified of it ending until it hit the news,” Jeansonne said. “I was like ‘whoa, wait a minute.’”
More than 18 months after the Category 4 storm wrecked southeast Louisiana, there are still nearly 2,000 Ida Sheltering trailers leased, across seven hard-hit parishes, according to numbers provided by GOHSEP, , which administers the program. That number does not include people in FEMA housing or other temporary programs, which are not affected by the end of Ida Sheltering.
The biggest numbers are in Terrebonne and Lafourche, with 791 and 449 trailers still being used, the state’s numbers show. St. John the Baptist and St. Charles Parishes both have close to 250, Jefferson has about 130 and St. James and Plaquemines Parish both have under 100.
State and parish leaders have been quick to stress that no one in the program will be made homeless June 1. Anyone still in an Ida Sheltering camper should be working with a case worker to determine the next steps, GOHSEP Spokesman Mike Steele said.
An appeal process is available for those who might need the campers for longer, Steele said.
“There will not be a drastic change between May 31 and June 1 if they still have needs,” he said.
In Terrebonne Parish, officials there have been working to try to locate housing for displaced residents amid a housing crunch.
“We did suffer the most damage,” said Kelli Varnado, the parish official in charge of housing. “We don’t have the housing in Terrebonne.”
Some residents have been referred to nearby Lafourche Parish, where the housing voucher program has more availability, Varnado said.
New developments are in the works, but those are “in the infant stages” and are at least a year away, she said.
Just to the east, in lower Jefferson Parish, parish housing leaders meet with case workers regularly to help move people out of Ida Sheltering trailers and into more permanent housing.
“Some of them are using them for storage, some are renting it out,” she said, noting that the parish had reduced the number of campers in use by nine in the previous week. “We’ve made good progress.”
Other residents, Babcock said, were awaiting various grant funds to come through to rebuild.
“It’s really a case-by-case basis trying to connect people to the right resources,” she said.
The Jeansonnes have been approved for a Restore Louisiana grant, but they won’t be staying in Bayou Gauche. Rising insurance rates have hit many homeowners across the area hard.
“If you put it in a flood plain, you have to get flood insurance,” and the costs were exorbitant Melissa said.
Instead, she and her husband found a lot in Franklinton, they are just waiting for the requisite inspections to be completed before they can move.
“I’m nervous about moving somewhere else, but I can’t wait until I don’t have to worry about someone taking my home from me,” she said. “I think I might finally be able to rest.”