May 14, 2008
BILOXI, Miss. _ When Angel Lewis closes her eyes and dreams of the moment she will walk into her new home on Huff Avenue in Biloxi on Friday, this is what she sees:
"I picture myself so excited and overwhelmed. I see myself crying most of the day," she said. "I can unpack my boxes, and leave them unpacked."
Lewis is 30, and the sole caretaker of her paralyzed father, Joe. Since Katrina, they've lived out of boxes, picking out the bare minimum to survive.
The Lewises are one of 60 Mississippi Gulf Coast families who will have new or refurbished homes by Friday, courtesy of the Habitat for Humanity Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project.
The project chooses a different location every year, and this year, with South Mississippi's acute need for affordable housing, the project landed hoping to scratch the surface of a monumental problem.
There are still tens of thousands of people in FEMA trailers, according to Habitat for Humanity. There are still untold numbers staying with friends and family, or who would like to come back to the area, but can't afford it.
The Lewises rented in Bayou View in Gulfport. After the storm, they fell into the trap of the thousands of renters along the Coast. They didn't own their previous home, and had to struggle to find a new rental.
Lewis jumped onto the housing merry-go-round with her handicapped father in tow, staying with friends when possible. During one stretch, they lived for three days in her rental storage space.
They lived in a FEMA trailer park for 2 years. They had no cell phone coverage, or land line. Being unable to contact her father while she was at work terrified her. She worked at Oreck at the time, then, when the company closed, she moved to Belk Department Store. Friends told her about Habitat, and she applied.
Lewis has had a hand in nearly every part of her new home. She has 200 sweat-equity hours to complete, and will do so on her home and others. She has built relationships with her future neighbors, and in the last few days, has come to love the crew that is making her dream a reality.
"I see myself taking pictures of the crew. I ask them not to go home, but to stay with me. They are part of my family," she said.