Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part column by Walter Brasch on the issue of those being forced out of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village near Jersey Shore due to the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry.
Kevin June is constantly on the move, going from trailer to trailer to help the families who were abruptly evicted. Whatever their needs, June tries to provide it, constantly on the phone, running up phone bills he knows he can't afford but does so anyhow because the lives of his neighbors matter.
There's Betty and William Whyne. Betty, 82, began working as a waitress at the age of 13 and now, in retirement, makes artificial Christmas trees. She has a cancerous tumor in the same place where a breast was removed in 1991. William, 72, who was an electrician, carpenter, and plumber before he retired after a heart attack, goes to a dialysis center three times a week, four hours each time. They brought their 12-wide 1965 Fleetwoood trailer to the village shortly after the 1972 flood. Like the other residents, they can't afford to move. They can't find adequate housing.
"We've looked at everything in about a 30-mile radius," they say. They earn $1,478 a month from retirement, only $252 above the federal poverty line. One son is in New Jersey, one is in Texas and the Whynes don't want to leave the area. They shouldn't have to.
There's April and Eric Daniels. She's a stay-at-home mom for their two children. He's a truck driver whose hours have been reduced. Their 14-by-70 trailer is valued at $13,200. She and her husband were in the process of remodeling it, had already paid $5,000 for improvements and were about to start building a second bathroom. April Daniels had grown up living in a series of foster houses, "so I know what it's like to move around, but this was my first home, and it's harder for me to leave."
Their trailer provides a good home, but can't be moved.
"We're pretty much on the verge of just tearing down the trailer and living in a camper," she says.
They don't know what will happen. They do know that because of what they see as Aqua's insensitivity, they will lose a lot of money no matter what they do.
Doris Fravel, 82, a widow on a fixed income of $1,326 a month, has lived in the village 38 years. She's proud of her 1974 12-wide trailer with the tin roof.
"I painted it every year," she says.
In June, she paid $3,580 for a new air conditioner. She recently paid $3,000 for new insulated skirting. The trailer has new carpeting. Unlike most of the residents, she found housing - a $450 a month efficiency. But it's far smaller than her current home. So she's sold or given away most of what she owns.
She may have a buyer for the trailer, and will take $2,500 for it, considerably less than it's worth.
"I can't do anything else," she says. "I just can't move my furnishings into the new apartment."
Like the other residents, she has family who are helping, but there's only so much help any family can provide.
"I never knew I would ever have to leave," she says, but she does want to "see one of those gas men come to my door-and I'd like to punch him in the shoulder."
Not only are there few lots available and apartments are too expensive, but most residents don't qualify for a house mortgage, and there are waiting lists for senior citizen and low-income housing. The stories are the same.
No one from Aqua has been in touch with any resident. But, the company did hire a local real estate agency. The agency claims it has made extraordinary efforts to help the residents find other housing. The residents disagree. April Daniels says "some of the Realtors have gotten real nasty with the people in the park-they just don't understand that we are all in a hardship, so we get mad and frustrated and take it out on them."
But there really isn't much anyone can do. The natural gas boom has made affordable housing as obsolete as the anthracite coal that once drove the region's energy economy.
The residents, with limited incomes, have lived good lives. They are good people. They paid their rents and fees on time, they kept up the appearances of their trailers and the land around it. They worked their jobs, they survived. Until they were evicted
And now it's up to the residents to try to survive. They have become closer. They listen to each other. They hug each other, and, the tough men aren't afraid to let others see them cry.
"The pain in this park is almost too much at times," says June.
If something goes wrong, the residents have to fix it. Kevin June is the one they call. If he can't fix a problem, he finds someone who can. In this trailer park, as in most communities, there is a lot of talent - "we help each other," says June. His job is to make sure the residents survive.
"I've had the Holy Spirit running through my veins a long time, but it's running real deep right now," he says.
A half-dozen families have already moved, but most say they will stay and fight what they see as a politically-based corporate takeover.
During the week Aqua PVR issued eviction notices, its parent company issued a news release, boasting its revenue for 2011 was $712 million, a 4.2 percent increase from the year before. Its net income was $143.1 million, up 15.4 percent from the previous year. But, for some reason, the company just couldn't find enough money to give the residents a fair moving settlement.
"They just expect us to throw our homes into the street and live in tents," says June.
"I went to see a state representative to ask what he could do to help," he says, "but his secretary just coldly told me there was nothing that could be done because whoever owns a property can do with it what he wants to do."
He never saw the state representative.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania-armed with an industry-favorable law recently rammed through by the Republican-controlled Legislature and eagerly signed by a first-term Republican governor who received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the energy industry - has decided that fracking the earth, threatening health and the environment, is far better for business than taking care of the people.
Kevin June and 36 families are just collateral damage.
(Tax-deductible donations may be made to the Riverdale Fund, c/o Sovereign Bank, 222 Allegheny St., Jersey Shore, Pa. 17740; 570-398-1540.)
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Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist and author of 17 books. His current book is Before the First Snow, available in hardcover and ebook editions from Greeley & Stone, Publishers; amazon; and other book stores.