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SPECIAL REPORT: Moving On - KOAM TV 7

SPECIAL REPORT: Moving On

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Nearly four out of five families who lived in FEMA housing after the Joplin tornado have moved on.  So what's keeping those who remain?

Many of the FEMA residents say they've heard the opinions of some who believe the FEMA housing units should've been closed by now.

When we first talked by phone to FEMA resident Linda Johnson she said she was depressed, lost hope, and was mad.  When we met her a few days later for our interview she had a different attitude.  She chose to not give up.

Johnson knows the up's and down's of living in a FEMA mobile home.  Before last year's tornado Johnson and her sister had an apartment.  They both signed the lease.

"She decided she didn't want to pay the rent, so when she didn't want to pay rent it was all on me and I couldn't pay rent and electric," Johnson says.

The $1,600 debt turned into a bad credit score.

"That put me in a bad spot," Johnson says.

The debt has made it almost impossible for Johnson to find a home for herself and Crazo, her pet bird.

"He keeps me company, he's like a wife or a husband, because I'll be out here cooking and he's listening," says Johnson.  "He's bad but he's the one who keeps me sane.  If it wasn't for him, I'd probably be over the bucket."

Johnson knows getting out of FEMA housing means she has to get out of debt.  She's hoping after today she'll be on the right path.  A friend from the Salvation Army sent her to the Economic Security Corporation in Joplin.

"He goes 'I know they are giving people money down there at the Economic Security to pay down debts' and he goes 'but yours is kind of high, so don't expect it to happen, if it doesn't,'" says Johnson.

"As she went out to look for apartments she wasn't able to get some because of past credit history," says Deanna Burns of Joplin Economic Security.

"It's nice to at first have these trailers, which is really great for everybody, but we all can't stay here on a permanent basis anyway," says Johnson.

 453 tornado survivors have already moved out of the mobile homes - 133 remain.  FEMA had originally set a deadline for everyone to be moved out later this month.  A few weeks ago that deadline was extended to next year but residents will soon have to pay rent that's adjusted to their income.

"I think a lot of people thought they had to be out," says Burns.  "We saw an increase in October in our appointments."

Johnson also wants out.

"I wanted a place of my own," Johnson says.  "I've had one for 10 years.  I want my own place."

Johnson says she needs a fresh start and her debt erased.

And with the help of Economic Security, that's what she gets.

"Now it's wiped clean and I don't have to worry about that debt anymore, and it's because of Deanna and people at the Salvation Army who have helped me get to where I am," says Johnson.

"Economic Security has asked for a grant from the Missouri Housing Trust Fund, from the state of Missouri," says Burns.  "And with those grants, we have rules and regulations of which we follow, and under those laws we were able to help her with past due amounts."

"This is really great," Johnson says.  "My bird has a home now.  We can get a home like we had before."

"A lot of the problems that I'm seeing with my clients is that they haven't went out to get housing yet, but there are apartments out there available, we hear about them daily that there are homes and apartments out there, you just have to find them," says Burns.

There are many still in a similar situation experienced by Johnson.  And before their house hunting can begin, Johnson wants to tell them that someway, somehow, their journey home can begin, too.

"Some of these people haven't been motivated, they haven't got any motivation to get out and look for something, they don't realize their time is running out," says Johnson.

The Economic Security Corporation says they won't be able to help everyone since there are rules and regulations set by the state.  But, they say different options could still be available.

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