HAMMOND — Cris and Gerald Burkins feel grateful they have a warm shelter during the winter months, but the flood victims have a different wish for the Christmas season.
“We just want a return to normalcy,” Cris said.
The Walker couple and their family members remain at the Western Inn, a motel along U.S. 190 in Hammond. The discount lodge is the most stable shelter they have had since the Great Flood of 2016 forced them out of their home.
Despite the stability, new obstacles appear every day.
“We live each day wondering what will happen next,” she said.
Gerald wants to find a rent house or other dwelling that can accommodate his children and grandchildren.
“Don’t get me wrong … I don’t want to cause problems,” he said. “I have enough of my own, and I don’t ever want to sound ungrateful.”
The family lost their home off La. 447, which led them on transfers to various Red Cross and faith-based shelters. They did not qualify for a FEMA mobile housing unit, but they found refuge in two different hotels – including one now under investigation by the Board of Health.
Their temporary dwelling will remain intact at least until Jan. 17 after FEMA announced its extension of the Temporary Shelter Assistance Program.
The Burkins family is among approximately 30,000 who remain homeless three months after the August flooding that destroyed more than half of the residential properties in Livingston Parish.
The connector-rooms at the Western Inn mark the latest stop for the Walker evacuees, who were forced to leave the complex after it took in more than 8 feet of water.
Two months after Livingston Parish News visited the family, they have endured other challenges in the cramped confines of the two-room suite.
“It’s tough to be around each other all the time that way … it gets very crowded,” Gerald said.
Gerald was particularly emotional during the visit. His daughter and two grandchildren left and sought refuge with relatives in Natchitoches Parish.
“She couldn’t stand being cooped up any longer,” he said.
“It feels like the family is splitting up,” Gerald said “Seeing her and a couple of my grandkids leave broke my heart.”
Shock characterized the first two months of displacement. Now, the problem is impatience.
“I wake up some mornings and wonder where are our belongings,” Cris said. “That’s when I remember we lost everything.”
Gerald compared the flood to the aftermath.
“The flood wasn’t this horrible,” he said. “What we’re living now is like “Iron Man” competition.”
Amid their own hardships, Gerald said he worries about many of the displaced residents with whom he and Cris bonded at the shelters.
“I’ve heard horror stories about suicide from other victims,” he said. “I worry a lot because I bonded with the people in the shelters who are still enduring the same hardships we faced, but now we’re all scattered through the area.”
He has considered leaving Louisiana, which had said was a last resort during the first months after displacement.
Gerald said he and his family may not have any other choice than to move back to his native Maryland.
“I feel like doors are closing,” he said. “I have to make decisions on whether to leave or keep on fighting.”
Gerald put aside plans for back surgery he had scheduled before the flood, but it also holds him back from working.
In the process, a clerical error led to the revocation of their food assistance. Help from Catholic Charities put them back on the rolls.
Attempts to find housing have fallen in the cracks because of required paperwork they cannot obtain after they lost everything in their home.
Gerald said he wishes he was in a spot to help others, many of whom face bigger struggles.
“You have so many people who are at a disadvantage who had never been that way before,” he said. “The bad thing is that there isn’t a thing anyone can do about it.
“The sad thing is that there are so many people out there like me who never found themselves in this situation,” Gerald said. “They’re people like me who never had to beg for anything life, and how we have no choice. We just want our lives back.”