December 31, 2003



Trailer park's evicted residents frustrated in search for help

Herald Staff Writer


They came looking for answers, but mostly found more questions.


What's your name?


Are you a documented resident?


Do you have children?


Do you have somewhere to go?


A day after residents of the Trail Motel and Mobile Home Park got notices ordering them to move out or make repairs to their dilapidated trailers within 30 days, county officials and members of several legal services groups came to the 14th Street park to meet with them.

Maria Gomez, a park resident and owner of five trailers in the park, said she wants someone - the county or the park's prospective new owner - to pay her a fair price for her trailers.


"They're not doing anything," Gomez said in Spanish. "They're asking who needs help, but they're not offering any help."


Outside one of the trailers, workers from Gulfcoast Legal Services, Florida Rural Legal Services and Migrant Farmworker Justice Project met with Manatee County Commissioner Pat Glass and Manatee County Community Services worker Cheri Coryea to discuss the residents' options.


"We just wanted to know what they are offering, which really seems to be nothing," said attorney Rachel-Micah Jones of Florida Rural Legal Services. "All they're doing is taking their information and offering to send them to the homeless coalition, which can't even help them all."


The Community Coalition on Homelessness can help only legally documented U.S. residents, Micah-Jones said, leaving many of the park's illegal residents without assistance.


When the discussion broke up, county officials began interviewing residents inside one of the trailers and lawyers continued meeting with residents, setting up chairs outside the trailer.


"That was discouraging," Micah-Jones said as she walked away from the huddle with county officials.

Glass said the county is committed to helping anyone who asks for help.


"This part is just painstaking because each case is unique," Glass said "I can't go out and get money from the county until I can get all these people documented and find out what their needs are."


The Trail Motel and Mobile Home Park, 3503 14th St. W., has a history of unsafe structure citations, code violations and repeated complaints of criminal activity.


County officials issued 81 unsafe structure notices, including 37 demolition orders with instructions for people to vacate their homes immediately and 44 repair orders that offered demolition as an alternative. Notices delivered Monday were follow-ups to warning placards posted on homes in August. Residents had known formal notices were coming soon and that they must eventually leave the park, which is in the process of being sold.


An investment group led by Joel McNair signed a contract in October to buy the park. McNair said his group wants to rebuild the park from scratch, including new homes, roads, utilities and other amenities. Micah-Jones said she believes the sale is contingent upon the current owner clearing the park of all residents.


Gulfcoast Legal Services staff attorney John Dubrule said trailer owners have rights, regardless of their immigration status.

"We want to make sure people's rights aren't being ignored," Dubrule said.