Where Have All the Trailers Gone?

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have left hundreds of thousands of Americans homeless. Where will they live?

June 3, 2016

Where Have All the Trailers Gone?

Now that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are over, people whose homes were damaged or destroyed must find somewhere to live. Securing temporary housing for so many people at once is a daunting task, and one of the biggest challenges of disaster recovery.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita tore into the Gulf Coast in 2005 they displaced more than a million residents. For many of these people, trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency became their homes. But many of the new occupants soon became sick. The culprit was formaldehyde, which emanated from the hastily assembled, substandard materials used to make the temporary homes. The toxic FEMA trailers became an embarrassment to the agency and, in the eyes of many, emblematic of the government’s mismanaged response to the disaster.

In 2015 Distillations followed CHF researcher and medical anthropologist Nicholas Shapiro as he looked for the remaining FEMA trailers. His search took him to the oil fields of North Dakota, where a different kind of housing crisis is taking place.