Friday, June 29, 2007

CEOPHUS' FENCE

Ceophus and Mrs. Lewis came back in September of 2006 to rebuild their home in one of the more devastated areas of New Orleans. The lower 9th Ward.

I met Ceophus one day traveling around the 9th Ward with a journalist friend of mine. As we were driving by I saw Ceophus cleaning debris off of bricks with a rusty old hatchet. I pulled over and we all talked awhile. As we were leaving I asked him if he needed any help with anything. I told him I couldn't make any promises but I could get the word out. He said no, they were okay.

Then I noticed his fencing. The fence was pushed in towards the ground from the pressure of the flood waters coming through his neighborhood and yard. In others areas, the fencing was completely gone as the fence poles had been pulled out of the ground by the rushing water and debris.

I asked Ceophus if he would like to get his fence repaired. And he smiled and with atwinkle in his eyes, he said yes, that was something he was hoping to get done.

The next time I saw Ceophus I was able to give him the great news that Sarah, Stu, and Nate who are with Plenty International, would be able to come over with volunteers and help him rebuild his fence. All he would need to do was get the fencing supplies. Then, the news got better, the Beverly Chicago Crew (artist's and musician's) had raised enough funds through a fundraiser before coming to New Orleans and would not only be rebuilding his fence - but they were going to pay for the fencing and supplies. Again, I got to deliver this awesome news to Ceophus and his wife.

And Sarah, Stu, Nate, and the Beverly Chicago crew, did a great job reconstructing and constructing Ceophus' fence. And as a result, an extra sense of security was created in a neighborhood where shots being fired at night and the National Guard patrolling the neighborhood is part of 'life" as they know it.


But Ceophus' story does not end here. Ceophus told me that they could have been moved into their home by now if it weren't for the electrician that they hired and paid $12,000 (they only owe $1000 more), to do their electrical work. The electrician came in November and promised Ceophus and his wife that they would be out of the FEMA trailer and into their house in early February - "before Mardi Gras".


Now the 4th of July is just around the corner and the electrician is no where to be found...

At first the electrician had the decency to take their calls and lie to them. Promising them weekly that he would be there to finish the work he was paid for. Then in the last 2 months he first told them there was nothing he could do until the inspector came (3 weeks ago), even though he has work to finish as he has not fully wired their house yet.

Ceophus and his wife could have been in their house months ago. Now it is summer and they are waiting. The electrician doesn't even bother to take their calls anymore, he sends them right to voice mail, and he doesn't return their calls.

Nothing else in the house can be done until he finishes his electrical work that he was paid $12,000 for. The final bits of sheet rock can not be hung, painting and trim work can't be done and worst of all - Ceophus and his wife, who are so close to getting back in their home - are at his mercy.

You see, they have already spent $12,000 and the work is not complete. If another electrician comes in they have to pay him to do the work they already paid for. Many electricians don't want to come in and follow the work of another electrician (especially in this case - shoddy, unreliable work and ethics) as the inspector will ask the current electrician to fix or redo whatever mistakes the previous electrician made before giving the electrical permit.

I am aware of how Ceophus and his wife (who has delicate health), really try to speak in faithful ways whenever I ask them about how things are going for them. I seem them really working at ways to frame conversations about their frustration and tribulations in meaningful ways, to stay hopeful, and not go into despair, trusting that in the end, God will deliver them justice.

After being through so much and being so close - all Ceophus can do right now is wait and trust that the electrician that they paid pretty much in full, will follow through and finish his work.


(Note: I spoke with Ceophus this past weekend. I was waiting to publish this story as Mrs. Lewis was concerned about the possibility of some form of backlash from the electrician who kept promising to come and finish the job he had been paid for.

They decided to pay another electrician to finish the work (again) so that they could get into their home. I called them with the Attorney Generals phone number 2 days ago so that they could report the electrician that took thousands of dollars of their money and never completed his work. This type of contractor fraud is sadly common place in New Orleans. And it is the senior citizens who are mainly their victims. It is heartbreaking.)


IN PEACE.

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