Hurricane Rita did more destruction than can be imagined. However, the saying, Every cloud has a Silver Lining, has become a reality.
“In 2005, Hurricane Rita hit a park we’re invested in in Louisiana,” said Michael Turner, executive director, Silver Lining Foundation. “I started getting involved with FEMA providing disaster housing for individuals and families who got washed out.”
Little did he expect to spend the next four years debating back and forth with the government to get his program started. It seemed so simple. There were surplus manufactured homes the government wasn’t using and Michael had the vision to know there was a better use for them. Also, he had the patience and tenacity to deal with the government.
“I did quite a bit of research on who needs the help and what I discovered, very close to the top of the list, were the elderly,” Michael said. “People who are on fixed incomes, especially the elderly, handicapped and disabled, who are often in a very scary position in life. Frequently they don’t have children to rely upon and they are no longer working, trying to live off social security to make their ends meet.
“I think senior citizens often don’t get the appreciation they deserve. A lot of people are veterans of foreign war who helped contribute to our country economically with ideas and hard work, etc. They retired and are shooed off to the side and are not really considered,” he said. “I think that’s a very undignified way to appreciate the people who have given us the nation we live in.”
Michael doesn’t limit the program to the elderly.
“Whether it’s the elderly, disaster victims, low income people, at risk families or people with HIV or AIDS. Different groups of people find themselves where they can’t even sustain their basic needs in life,” he said.
Taking it a step further, he compares it to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. First comes breath, then food and water, clothing and finally, shelter. Since Maslow is a distant cousin of his, this has been an constant tool in Michael’s life, hearing it spoken at all family gatherings.
“If you give someone a house they feel they have control over their own lives, they have a place to call their own, they can be proud of it — the American Dream,” he said. “If you can get it into the right people’s hands they can pretty much take it from there.”
Working with the government, his foundation has developed the requirements, rules and regulations to find the “right” people. It hasn’t been easy.
At first the government brushed him off stating that if it was that good an idea, it would already be in the works. Other obstacles were thrown in his way and he began facing them one by one.
“I don’t know why it hasn’t been done,” he said. “But it should be!”
No one is going to want trailers in their back yard was another block.
“Why don’t we use existing manufactured home communities where they are already in someone’s back yard,” he replied. “Let’s start there and see how it works.”
Slowly but surely he made headway, all in the hopes of getting the federal, state and local governments to better handle the emergency housing program. Along the way he found the needs were greater and created the not-for-profit Silver Lining Foundation.
An ideal situation for he and his wife who invested in three manufactured home communities 10 years ago located in Mission, Brownsville and Louisiana. Late last year they arrived at the moment they’d been waiting for — shipping out their first homes.
Mission Gardens in Mission will have 12 units to start with — furnished three bedroom, one bath, some with handicapped accessible bathrooms, microwaves, First Alert, good closets and a place for washer/dryers.
Michael has a special connection to this project.
“I was actually brought up very poor and I think that’s where I get my motivation from,” he said.
Though it was through the destruction of Rita that Michael became involved, it was the Silver Lining he found that has changed his life.
“If I have experience, financial means and ability to make a difference and help make some changes to the way government, private industry and not-for-profits help people in terms of housing and I don’t do it - what kind of person am I?” Michael said.
To learn more about the program, there will be an open house Saturday, Feb. 27, at Mission Gardens, or go to Silver-lining-foundation.org or call Gerald or Ruth Hopefinger at Mission Gardens, 956-585-5671.