By Mike Brunker West Coast news editor
msnbc.com
updated 8/28/2006 6:39:43 AM ET 2006-08-28T10:39:43

Gisele “Gigi” Brown, 74, of St. Bernard Parish, La. Owner of an uninsured mobile home worth approximately $20,000. Now relocated to Purvis, Miss.

Gigi Brown is thankful for the FEMA trailer and nearly $10,000 in federal aid she has received, but the 74-year-old widow is worried sick about the big question hanging over her future: What will she do when her 18-month stay in the rent-free trailer comes to an end?

“I’m not one to complain, because I know other people are in worse shape than I am,” she says six months after Hurricane Katrina ruined her mobile home in Poydras, La., and cast her into limbo. “But I’m just thinking about the future.”

The main reason for her uncertainty is that, despite repeated calls to FEMA, she has been unable to determine whether she is entitled to any federal compensation for the loss of her mobile home.

“I call every week, but they’re always switching my case from one assistant to another,” she says. “When I call it’s never the same one, so I have to give my (claim) number, my Social Security number and explain everything. Then every time they say call back next week.”

The answer to the question is central to the calculus of Brown’s post-Katrina existence.

She already has received checks from FEMA for $5,195 to replace personal property she lost in the storm, $2,358 in rent assistance and $2,000 in emergency aid. That money has gone in the bank, leaving her with $567 a month in Social Security and VA benefits and food stamps to live on.

That’s enough to get by on, she says, as long as nothing unexpected crops up, as it did recently when she had to have some work done on her car -- a 1998 Mazda that is “all that I own.” Then things can get a bit difficult, but Brown said she cuts corners by “washing all my clothes by hand and eating sandwiches and little things I cook.”

The scrimping is aimed at pursuing what, for now, is Brown’s master plan: Buying a small piece of property, preferably in Louisiana, on which she can put a small trailer.

And if FEMA doesn’t come through with any money to replace her trailer?

“Then at least I have a piece of property, even if I have to put a tent on it,” she says, punctuating that too-awful-to-believe vision with a long laugh.

She had hoped to return to Poydras, but had to abandon that notion after finding out that the landlord doubled the monthly rent for the space where she parked her mobile home to $300. Now she’d settle for someplace not too far from the cemetery in St. Bernard Parish so she can visit the graves of her husband and three children.

“My whole family is there, you know, and I hate to stray too far from it,” she said.

While she waits for FEMA to shed light on her outlook, Brown said she spends most of her time in her trailer, gazing at the lake outside, feeding the resident squirrels peanuts and crackers and waiting for warmer weather so she can resume her daily walks.

And, despite the difficulties Katrina has tossed in path, she still can find humor in her travails.

“Physically, I’m fine, and mentally, too, at least until FEMA messed with my mind,” she says, waiting just a beat before breaking out in laughter again.

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