Article published Dec 16, 2003
Advocates for park residents prompt Manatee into action
BRADENTON -- Fear and confusion have dominated the lives of Trail Motel
and Mobile Home Park residents for the past two weeks.
They said a man representing the prospective buyers threatened them with
deportation if they didn't leave the park immediately. They had their water and
electricity interrupted. And the residents, many of whom do not speak or read English,
have not been able to find new shelter quickly.
A group of farmworker advocates last week drove from Fort Myers to the mobile home
park to help residents and to ensure that the buyers are working within the law.
The Florida Rural Legal Services' presence prompted the county into action.
On Monday, Commissioner Pat Glass and Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells walked
through mud-choked streets lined with antiquated trailers, stray dogs, and trash.
They and other county officials, as well as local advocates, surveyed the troubled park
and talked to representatives of the buyers.
The meeting was intended to get facts about the park's eventual sale and closing, officials said.
"We're here strictly to help with solutions," Glass told reporters and county TV staff.
But Monday's reassurances provided little comfort to those facing an uncertain future.
Jorge Orochena, a tomato field worker who has lived in the park for about a year, said he
is not sure where he will live next because field work has been unpredictable.
"It's just another worry," he said in Spanish. "We'll have to search for something."
Laraine Chulla, speaking for the buyers, a group of Sarasota investors who want to
build affordable housing there, told Glass that cultural differences led to miscommunication
between the group and the residents. She said trust had not been established.
Chulla said she's making a concerted effort to make residents feel better.
She replaced former liaison Harold Cabrera with Claudia Lopez. Dozens of residents
complained that Cabrera threatened them with eviction and welfare intervention if they
didn't leave the park immediately, even though they had been given until mid-January
to find new homes.
Chulla has promised to let residents stay until the end of January. And she hired
off-duty Manatee County sheriff's deputies to monitor the park at night.
Glass, who has taken up affordable housing as her mission, told Chulla that
the residents need help.
"We look at this as a crisis," Glass said. She said things will improve when the
buyers start their project, but "meanwhile we're dealing with human lives here."
Some residents rent their trailers, while others own them but rent the land. The park,
which no longer has a motel, had hundreds of trailers.
The transition has been difficult for residents who must find new homes. Many live paycheck
to paycheck and have not been able to come up with enough money for rental deposits.
Another problem is the vacant trailers are attracting crime, those residents left behind say.
Wells said deputies have responded to numerous calls to the park.