It has been gut-wrenching to watch the trauma suffered by 18 adults and 16 children suddenly forced out of their rented mobile homes in Largo because the park owners abandoned their responsibilities to their tenants.
It has been distressing to see how frayed the social safety net for the poor and victimized has become.
But it also has been heartwarming to see caring people step up to try to help the victimized residents, explaining that many Americans are losing their homes or jobs or just struggling to feed and clothe their families, so we all need to help each other.
The residents of the No Go Largo Village mobile home park on Clearwater-Largo Road had to move out Wednesday after the city of Largo discovered that they had been existing without running water in their homes since Sept. 30. Health and safety codes don't allow that.
The water had been turned off because the owners of the park, Andrea Trani and Helene Provenzano, had not paid the park's water bill since late July and were thousands of dollars in arrears.
Yet with outrageous callousness, they continued to collect rent and even let new people move in to the park as recently as three weeks ago. Only eight of the approximately 60 units in the park are rented because the remainder are so dilapidated they can't be occupied.
The residents of the occupied homes, some of them families with young children, struggle as it is. That the landlords continued to collect money and delivered unlivable conditions is unconscionable. To get water, residents had to trek to a mobile home park next door, also owned by Trani and Provenzano's Key Largo Communities Corp., where the water bill also is overdue. Trani had promised to pay a portion of that overdue bill by late Thursday, but Pinellas Utilities said she didn't show up.
On Wednesday city officials went to No Go Largo and announced that the eight families there would have to find another place to live. It would be an understatement to say that the residents were emotional and anxious. Some have children who are in school. Some recently lost their jobs. Some are disabled. One is pregnant. Some of the residents told the St. Petersburg Times that they had no money to move and start over.
Largo officials seemed to understand the dire circumstances. They brought bottled water and food to the mobile home park along with a crew of experienced helpers, including the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, which will try to help them find permanent housing.
The problem, of course, is finding housing that is affordable for residents who can pay only a few hundred dollars a month in rent. Had they been able to afford more, they likely would not have ended up in a place like No Go Largo, which was so named by the owners after an annexation dispute with Largo.
Largo Community Development director Carol Stricklin told the Tampa Tribune she had spent two days on the phone trying desperately to find housing for the eight households.
"One thing I learned in all the phone calls is there is not a big safety net for people who are vulnerable and need housing," Stricklin was quoted as saying.
As the economy worsens and foreclosures rise, more Americans may learn that the social safety net that once supported people through lean times has become threadbare. Government at all levels has reduced funding for social welfare programs, depending on nonprofits and faith-based organizations to take up the slack. However, such organizations are often dependent on donations and grants, and in this economy, they are struggling to stay afloat themselves.
The helpers who gathered at the park Wednesday and Thursday, including some local business owners and good-hearted individuals who read about the situation and just showed up, created the village that was needed to support these residents.
It is hoped that for the No Go Largo residents, housing will be found that offers an improvement in their living conditions without creating new costs that they cannot bear. And for the landlords who left them in such dire straits, there should be serious consequences.