Mary Tutwiler

When others said no, he opened his town to hurricane evacuees

by Mary Tutwiler

Unnoticed in the avalanche of news about formaldehyde in FEMA trailers and this summer’s final closing of the last of the trailer parks with some Katrina victims still scrambling to find housing, is the story of Harold M. Rideau, the mayor of Baker. When other towns in Louisiana were passing ordinances forbidding the establishment of FEMA trailer parks in their jurisdictions, Rideau, a Vietnam veteran and graduate of Southern University welcomed a flood of desperate people into his small town of 14,000. Rideau, who grew up poor in Bunkie, determined to help those unfortunate people the way his family had been helped. The FEMA trailer park that grew to house 2000 people on the outskirts of Baker, the largest FEMA encampment by far, is called Rennaissance Village . It has gotten a lot of press in the past two and a half years, both good, for its arts workshops, and bad, for the stories about perceived crime in the trailer park. But what no one has reported until now, is how Mayor Harold Rideau worked tirelessly to make the trailer park a decent place to live, how he fought to bring city services to the evacuees, and how he built a bridge between his constituents and the residents of Renaissance Village. Click here to read the story about Rideau in today’s New York Times.