EDWARDS, Miss. (AP) — Donations have poured in for an Edwards woman who is living in a dilapidated home without heat or running water.
The smell of manure hangs, heavy, in the air. A dozen or so cows surround 66-year-old Clara Daniels’ home in the outskirts of Hinds County; the one acre or so her house sits on has been carved from 40.
The cows are not hers. They eat every day. Clara does not.
Inside Clara’s yard, an empty tin can lies discarded, crusted in mud. A broken vacuum cleaner leans against the house, next to a satellite for DirecTV. A wheelbarrow sits by the front door, filled with water bottles. Clara can’t remember the last time the house had running water; the toilets and sinks were taken out long ago. She uses the bathroom in the woods.
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With tears in her eyes, she said, “It’s been a long time, living this way.”
On Jan. 15, the Clarion Ledger published her story.
Clara’s son, William, 34, has always stayed close to his mother. Diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, he was in and out of hospitals as a child. The two live off his $700-a-month disability check.
Over the years, Clara said, people from different county agencies have come to her home and taken pictures and offered to help — including promises of building her a new house — but she has yet to see any results.
The Clarion Ledger made repeated calls to officials regarding Clara. A limited few were returned, and the ones that were responded with “no comment.”
Clara said she resigned herself to the fact that help may not be coming.
Then, last January, a woman in Crystal Springs donated a two-bedroom mobile home for Clara and William. It has sat behind her home since, vacant. Clara can’t move in. She doesn’t have the money to hook up a septic tank.
Moving the mobile home cost $1,800 and took the last bit of Clara’s savings. Then, the man who moved it didn’t have a license and didn’t tie it down like he was supposed to. Clara had to pay another man $518 to do the job.
The mobile home came with orange carpet but it was covered with dirt, so Clara ripped it up herself. It’s in a pile on the floor. She paid another man $250 to put down laminate flooring. He did half of the work and never came back.
“I’ve learned not to fool with folks,” she said. “If I can’t do it myself, I’m not going to get it done.”
Steve Pickett, with the nonprofit Mississippi Center for Police and Sheriffs, has tried to help Clara and William but has run into roadblocks. Pickett said it will cost approximately $5,000 to install the septic tank, and the money just isn’t there.
After the article printed, Pickett said he got phone calls from across the country, including Queens, New York, Oregon and Atlanta.
“The phone rang and rang and rang,” he said.
To streamline donations, Pickett set up a GoFundMe campaign so people could donate online.
Less than 48 hours after the story published, more than $10,000 had been donated to help Clara and William move into the mobile home. When reached by phone Wednesday morning, Clara said she was shocked at the amount of money.
“Oh, God, don’t tell me that, Baby,” she said. “Oh, God, thank you, Jesus.”
Of the amount raised, GoFundMe takes 2.9 percent and collects a .30 fee from every donation.
In addition to the online campaign, Pickett said he has had people who indicated they would be mailing donations. The Clarion Ledger has had numerous emails asking how to help anonymously.
Before Clara can move into the mobile home, a septic tank must be installed, water run out to the mobile home and the roof repaired. Thanks to the flood of donations, Pickett said, the work can begin.
“She also needs a roof, her flooring finished, she needs a refrigerator, so there’s a lot of work,” he said.
It’s a long list, but Pickett said he’s confident the work can get done quickly.
“She already has her permits, which puts us way ahead of the curve, so she’s ready to go,” Pickett said. “We’re not going to have a long delay on this thing at all.”
The septic tank must be installed to meet the code of the state Department of Health.
An anonymous donor is paying for a Vicksburg company to install a septic tank, he said. The plumber and roofer will follow.
Pickett said it’s ‘tragic” that a mobile home is mere feet from the Daniels’ home but they can’t live there.
“The real sadness is how long they have lived like this and how many others are there in the rural part of the state that are living in these same circumstances,” he said.
Clara has faced myriad problems in her life. Fleeing home, she first moved to Edwards to get away from her family.
“They were misusing me and my kids,” she said.
She raised three sons on her own. She worked as a housekeeper but couldn’t hold a steady, full-time job because of William’s diagnosis.
“I wasn’t the kind of parent who would leave my kid on nobody,” she said. “I would go and if I had to stay a week or two weeks, I would be there. The nurses would always tell me, ‘Ms. Daniels, you can go home.’ I would say, ‘When he leaves out of here, that’s when I’ll leave. If he can’t leave, I can’t leave.’ Now he’s 34, he won’t leave here.”
She had a partner, Hezekiah, who helped raise her sons, but the two never married. William lived with him for a while but moved back in with Clara after Hezekiah died in 2001.
Her other two sons, both older than William, rarely visit. She knows her older son drives trucks. She doesn’t know about the other.
In 2014, she was admitted to the state mental hospital for depression, she said. She received disability for four months before it was cut off.
Clara first bought the five-room house, including the kitchen and bathroom, for $3,000 in 1994.
In 2010, the house began to tilt as the blocks under it started to deteriorate. Then, four years ago, she took out the sinks. The family had running water but turned it off because the house can’t handle the pressure.
The kitchen and the bathroom haven’t been used since. A washing machine sits behind the house, no longer in use.
A mama dog, which is never once called by a name, sits at the edge of a wire fence separating Clara’s home from the cow pasture. The dog’s teats are full and four puppies stay close by. The puppies came from her sixth litter. She gave birth to 10. Only four survived. The smallest puppy’s belly is swollen; he walks over a pair of rusted pliers as he sniffs the ground for discarded food. There is none. He chews on a piece of metal instead.
To enter the clapboard house, visitors step up on two cracked concrete blocks and push the front door open. It doesn’t have a doorknob. Three padlocks are used to keep it closed.
Once inside, the floor immediately drops a foot; Clara side steps to the right, bumping against her bed.
She moved her bed into the living room four years ago after the floor in her bedroom gave way. The floor is splintered in some places and simply gone in others. One wrong step would send her tumbling to the hard dirt beneath.
So, for now, her bedroom serves as storage.
The living room is crowded. A defunct furnace takes up a large portion of the space. Piles of clothes and baskets take up the rest. Discarded shoes, their mates nowhere in sight, litter the floor.
A blanket serves as a curtain on the lone window. Wind howls through the house. The blanket has been pushed to the side to let the light in. The sunlight dances off dust and spider webs.
Before crawling into bed each night, Clara pushes aside a pile of unwashed clothes that have gathered on the worn, sagging mattress and tucks herself in to a small corner on the edge of the bed. The threadbare sheet isn’t enough to keep her warm so she often throws a blanket on top of a nearby space heater.
“It’s not dangerous if you know how to do it,” she says.
Above her head, faded sheets that once boasted vibrant flowers have been tacked to the wood ceiling. Without them, debris would rain down on her as she sleeps.
The cupboards in the kitchen are bare. A massive, rusted refrigerator sits quiet. Clara says the refrigerator works but standing water sits at the bottom. A Banquet dinner that is meant to be frozen sits alone on the top shelf. A white powder has settled on the condiment bottles. A bag of frozen Tyson chicken sits in the freezer.
A bag of pecans and bag of cereal is the only edible food in the kitchen. Both lie haphazardly on the kitchen table next to three cans of spinach, a stack of dishes and old kitchen appliances. One of the cans is rusted on top.
Clara said she isn’t hungry most days. To cook, William uses a small charcoal grill the family keeps outside.
Off the kitchen sits a bathroom that is never used. Two empty glass Coke bottles lay discarded on the floor of the bathroom. A layer of brown film covers the bathtub. The ground is visible where the sink used to be.
Even though she can’t move in, Clara has already begun decorating her new home. A couch sits in the living room along with a TV her son gave her.
There’s a stack of framed photos that show Clara in her early 20s, William when he was a child and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson. The walls are lined with things she has found on the side of the road.
Toys from fast food restaurants are placed on shelves next to trinkets and small ceramics. One of her prized possessions is a collection of miniature Barbie dolls that she keeps in the back bedroom. People have given them to her over the years, but William often gives them away.
The bedrooms are “small,” she said, but “when that’s all you can do you have to accept what you have for yourself.”
When the nights get cold, Clara stays in her home instead of sleeping in the trailer. While it’s solid and the wind can’t get in, there’s no electricity.
Clara said after years of waiting, she’s anxious for the work to begin but, with the temperature dipping in the single digits, she said she’s too worried about keeping warm to keep track of the donations.
She’s had friends call her and ask how, after years, things are beginning to change for the better.
“There’s been a lot of people calling here, asking me what’s going on, how is all this stuff happening,” she said. “I said, ‘The man above, Baby.'”
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com