Wearing the comic title of “Inspector General of Homeland Security,” a man whose actual name is Mark Skinner came on the TV news this week to answer questions about a problem that has arisen with nearly 11,000 motor homes (don’t call them trailers) that have no place to go. FEMA bought them – each 80’ long and wide-bodied – to serve as housing for the people who lost their homes to Katrina. Each trailer is fully furnished and includes a plasma TV. The whole lot cost FEMA $431 million dollars.
Why is the Hope Municipal Airport in Hope, Arkansas covered with acre after acre of these spanking new, unoccupied trailers? Because it was discovered that they can’t be taken to New Orleans to be used as temporary housing for the homeless because there is a law that says they are too heavy to be parked safely on ground in a floodplain. They might sink into the mud under their own weight in the floodplain that is New Orleans. Raise them on some kind of foundation and they become “permanent housing” that nobody wants and that also happens to be against the law.
And so they sit in Hope where FEMA pays $25,000 each month to park them in a soft field next to the airport runways. What to do? Since they are beginning to sink even in Hope, Inspector General Skinner suggests this solution: the government will pay between six and eleven million dollars to spread gravel under the trailers in order to save them. To save them for what? If the law says they can’t go to New Orleans, and they are sinking in Hope, why exactly are we going to spend taxpayer money to create a gravel field under unused trailers that aren’t going anywhere? What to do? It has been suggested that the city of Hope may decide to sell them to the public for one dollar each.
At that point Mr. Skinner, the Inspector General of Homeland Security, fell into one of those sudden silences that makes you think you’ve lost power to your TV. The embarrassing lapse ended only when the interviewer broke in to try to edge him toward some kind of answer. Since there is no answer, Mr. Skinner just sat there staring blankly out of the TV into the eyes of the millions of taxpayers whose money is going to be used to build a bed of gravel to ensure the safety of thousands of trailers that have to place to go. They will probably turn to rust in the city of Hope.