Mary Meyer is a unique yet compelling case for the St. Bernard Project. In addition to being the Project’s first client in Jefferson Parish, Mary serves as an important reminder that not everyone in need in New Orleans is a victim of Katrina.
Mary is not the type to mince words. Her responses are direct, concise, and unvarnished. Born in New Orleans, Mary lived in Jefferson Parish since she was 12 (she is currently 73). She has never married, and has outlived her entire extended family. Though she lives alone, Mary maintains an active life outside the home.
Every day at 2 o’clock, Mary goes for a walk. Along the way, she always stops off at her favorite watering hole, where she purchases exactly two cans of Coke. In addition to her daily walk, Mary enjoys going to her local senior center, and attending church at Good Shepherd Lutheran. She is currently living at Wynhoven, an apartment complex for the elderly on the West Bank, while her house SBP’s rebuilds her home.
The staff of the St. Bernard Project first made contact with Mary through a referral from the United Way. Mary’s front door would no longer lock, and the United Way tapped SBP to fix what they anticipated to be a minor problem. After all, much of the destructive flooding after Katrina did not occur in Jefferson Parish. As far as anyone knew, the only problem with the house was the front door.
We were all mistaken.
The staff members who went out to evaluate Mary’s house could not believe what they saw. The house was in an extreme state of disrepair and neglect. There were structural problems, vermin, and cockroach infestation.
SBP decided that a simple door repair would not be sufficient. Anything short of a complete rebuild would have been unconscionable.
The water from Hurricane Katrina barely made it up to her front steps. The only significant damage to her home was from a neighbor’s tree that blew into her yard and damaged a shed. She stayed in her home during the storm and never had to leave during its aftermath.
The problems with Mary’s home did not begin with Katrina. Her story helps us to remember that disaster victims are not the only members of our community in need, and that persistent, acute poverty can be just as devastating as any hurricane. Through our work on Mary’s home, we reaffirm SBP’s core mission, that all Americans, regardless of circumstance, are entitled to affordable, safe, and humane housing.