Live in the new tent city: Residents grateful, if uncertain

Published 8:55 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2017

By Sarah Culton
sarah.culton@leaderpub.com
The sun beat down on the parking lot of the Robert A. Bowers Civic Center Tuesday as Patrick Peshoff, 27, of Port Arthur, rode his skateboard over the concrete serving as is his new back yard toward a line of white tents that is his temporary home.
“It’s really not as bad as everyone says it is,” Peshoff said of his temporary shelter. “It gets hot, but at least we have something over our heads.”
Peshoff is one of many currently staying in a temporary tent shelter in the civic center’s parking lot, which has been up for more than a week.
The tents are made to fit 14 cots and contain an air conditioning unit to help give residents refuge from the heat. The tents do no come with any outlets or other amenities.
Despite the inconvenience of being away from home and not knowing how long they will stay at the shelter, some of those who are residing in the shelter say they are grateful to the city for providing them with a place to stay.
“The storm, it is what it is. I lost things, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Peshoff said. “Being here, [the workers] are doing a good job and taking care of everyone.”
The civic center shelters were erected late last week but they house evacuees who have been living in shelters for far longer.
Peshoff said he’s been at a shelter for a week and he’s sharing a tent with seven other people. He said the staff at the shelter have been helpful and are doing their best to care for and protect residents by doing things like setting up protections around the encampment to ward off looters and providing good food and drink for all residents.
Peshoff is not alone in his praise for the shelter.
Cody Gibbs, 21, of Beaumont, suffers from Spina bifida, which confines him to a wheelchair.
Gibbs, who is currently staying in a tent with 15 people, said camp staff have been accommodating to him and provided him with a special hospital cot to make him more comfortable.
“They have handicap everything, which is nice, and [the staff] helps me,” Gibbs said. “[Staying here] has been kind of fun. This is a new start, it’s good.”
Despite praise for the shelter, not everything has run entirely smoothly, residents said.
Gibbs himself said he has received conflicting reports about how long the shelter would remain open, which has caused him anxiety.
“Someone said it would be open for three months, others said only a week,” Gibbs said. “I don’t know what I’m doing after this, so not knowing is hard.”
The camp was established by state workers, and the duration will be assessed month to month.
Diane Turner, 50, turned up to the shelter Tuesday morning to secure a place for her and her son, after her apartment building in Port Arthur was flooded and infested with mold and mildew.
However, she said the shelter staff wanted to place them in a tent with 12 other people, which would pose a challenge for her son, who is autistic.
She said the shelter staff told her they would do the best to accommodate her requests, though they were not sure if they could.
“I would rather go back to my moldy house,” said Turner, who decided to go back to her apartment for the night, while the shelter figured out the situation. “I don’t think I’m going to like [living at the shelter].”
Peshoff, despite being grateful for the shelter and disagreeing with the negative attitudes some have about it, said he is working hard to get out of it as soon as he can.
In a week and a half, he will be moving to Denver, Colorado in order to build a new life for himself and his young daughter.
“There’s nothing left here for me, only this,” Peshoff said gesturing toward a line of tents. “The hurricane solidified that for me. I’m getting out of here.”