Finally, a bit of good news

Howard Goodman Column

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

 

A couple of columns ago, I wrote about a Lake Worth trailer park where the electrical power has remained crippled since the hurricanes.

For three months now, daily life at Tropical Trailer Gardens has meant keeping food in a camp cooler.

Under Florida's sun, residents had to spend their days outside because their mobile homes were too stifling.

Now that temperatures have dropped, "living in a trailer is like living in an icebox. There's no insulation whatsoever," said Christine Bonfante, a West Palm Beach paralegal who visited the park the other day.

I wish I could say life for the 40 or so people in the ragged little park is getting more comfortable. But it's not.

"You could see it in their faces that they're beyond patience, just waiting for the thing we all take for granted: electricity. And there's no end in sight," Bonfante said.

But there's been a trace of good news.

The city's code-enforcement department has agreed that their troubles, though triggered by Hurricane Jeanne on Sept. 26, have been prolonged by management's failure to maintain the power system.

At a hearing Thursday, special master Glen Torcivia ordered park manager Wesley Cox fined $200 a day until he meets city codes.

I couldn't reach Cox or his attorney, despite a couple of messages.

The residents say the camp's wiring was frayed even before the storms. But Jeanne blew down a line and did other damage, too. While some trailers were unaffected, others were left with power in just parts of their trailers and a few have no power at all.

On Oct. 28, the city ordered Cox to bring the camp up to code. It gave him until Dec. 14 to name a licensed contractor.

Thursday's hearing was to check on his progress, said Armand Harnois of Lake Worth's code compliance department.

But instead of plans to improve the park, Cox walked in with something else: a notice of plans to convert the park to vacant land.

The letter contends that the city insisted Cox install too-expensive underground lines.

Not true, Harnois told me: "He could put them underneath or on the top."

Cox sent the letter to each tenant. It said everyone had to find new accommodations by June 30. "We will work with each of you to help you in the situation," the letter stated.

I asked Henderson about that. She said Cox offered to buy her $5,000 trailer for $1,500.

Some help. And just in time for Christmas.

But Cox's strategy fizzled. By not coming up with a contractor, he obviously violated the order, Harnois said.

The fines aren't bringing the residents heat or hot water. "But it makes them feel somebody is listening," said Cathy Lively, their attorney.

Bringing some material solace is where Bonfante comes in. Touched by publicity about the residents, the mother of two visited the trailer park Saturday.

"These are people with nowhere else to go -- disabled, elderly, with no family to help them in any way," she said. She mentioned two children who are going without, a 7-year-old girl and "a 13-year-old boy who's got no jacket, no school uniform."

People have "spent all their money for batteries, gas for generators. There's no money for Christmas or presents," Bonfante said.

And so Bonfante and another woman, Susan Trosclair, are working to bring some cheer to Tropical Trailer Gardens on Friday, Christmas Eve.

They're rounding up blankets and batteries, and planning to drop off hot lasagna dinners.

In short order, they've collected $600 to give to the residents to spend on food, toys, prescriptions.

It breaks down to only $15 a family. They'd like to be able to give each one at least $50.

"This is the best way to celebrate Jesus' birthday," Bonfante said. "To help people in need."


Howard Goodman's column is published Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at hgoodman@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6638.



 
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