Volume 18 • Issue 20 | October 07 - 13, 2005

Elderly Katrina evacuee may be priced out of Tribeca

By Ronda Kaysen

Finding a new apartment in Tribeca is always a challenge, but for Tamya Rink the search just got much harder. When Hurricane Katrina brought her aging mother to her doorstep, her apartment hunting abilities — and criteria — changed significantly.

Rink, a Franklin St. resident, and her husband must vacate their one-bedroom apartment by the end of the month because of rent increases. Until last month, her attention had been focused entirely on that endeavor. But her plans were suddenly complicated when Hurricane Katrina plowed through her hometown of New Orleans, rendering her senile 89-year-old mother, Kate Humphrey, homeless.

“I would be running around like crazy right now, but I have nowhere to leave her,” said Rink, sitting in the living room of her 1,500 sq. ft. loft one recent October morning. Humphrey, a slight African American woman with cropped hair and large eyes, wandered in and out of the living room throughout the interview, smiling blankly in her floral pajamas.

When asked how she liked New York, she shrugged her shoulders and flipped her hands back and forth before leaving the living room again.

“She’s very disoriented,” Rink explained. “She’s confused.”

Rink, a backup singer who has performed with the Rolling Stones, the Neville Brothers and Ellis Marsalis (Wynton Marsalis’ father), hopes she can continue to live in Tribeca, where she has lived for the past seven years, but she worries she might have been priced out of the neighborhood. “I think it’s going to be quite hard finding a place,” she said, sitting in a red chair as she sliced an apple. “I just want her to be comfortable.” Rink currently pays upwards of $3,000 a month in rent.

A burgundy baby grand piano stood in the center of the living room, surrounded by an eclectic collection of furniture, paintings, posters and a medieval style wooden statuette of a priest. “I can take a little space and make it incredible,” she said, adding that since her mother arrived last month she and her husband have relocated their sleeping quarters to the living room.

The hurricane took a toll on Humphrey. Before the storm hit, Rink directed a social worker to Humphrey’s New Orleans home and stayed on the phone with her mother while the social worker coaxed her out of her house near St. Charles Ave. The social worker initially intended to take Humphrey to the now infamous Superdome in New Orleans, but by that point it was already too crowded. So she drove her to Baton Rouge, where Rink and a friend retrieved her a few days later. “I don’t think she would have made it” in the Superdome, Rink said. “I think it was an act of something incredible that she was taken out of there.”

Although Rink, a tall, lanky woman with wild hair, was born in New York, she was raised in New Orleans, where her family has lived for more than four generations. “There was a lot lost there,” she said. “It’s very hard for African Americans to trace their families back three or four generations. Those things that were important to me — all those photographs and albums — are lost.”

The last she heard, Humphrey’s neighborhood was submerged in seven and a half feet of water. Humphrey’s sister evacuated to Houston before Katrina. But when Hurricane Rita swept through later in September, she fled again. “I don’t know where she is or where my cousins are and I’m not sure I can find them,” she said.

For now, Rink is focusing on the short term. She hopes she can find temporary assistance for her mother while she looks for a new home. “My mom really wants to go home, but she can’t,” she said.



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