Closure of Bradenton trailer park leaves some homeless

The closure of W.T. Mobile Home Park was a blessing for some. People moved to new states, found better housing and reunited with family members.

Not everyone was so fortunate. Sitting on a bright orange bucket, arm’s length from the $50 tent he bought at Walmart, John Landers mulled plans to sell his belongings and move to Indiana, where he might find the support of family.

For now, Landers is staying in a field near the former trailer park, which sold to Horne Development LLC for $1.95 million in August. The park, a longtime haven for low-income residents and people with disabilities, will soon be cleared and replaced with a three story, climate-controlled storage facility.

W.T. Mobile Home Park was located at 3708 Manatee Ave. W., near the Shake Pit restaurant. Former residents said the aging trailers were in deplorable condition, but it was better than a life on the streets.

A “for sale” sign was posted outside the park for as long as anyone could remember, and on Aug. 30 they got a sobering notice — the park sold and their homes would soon be bulldozed. Citing a lack of income and affordable housing in Manatee County, many felt they needed more than 30 days’ notice.

“That’s what aggravated me and everybody else,” Landers said.

Landers already lived in a tent for three months before he found refuge at W.T. Mobile Home Park. He paid $700 a month and called Trailer No. 9 his home, but with his current income — $770 a month in Supplemental Social Security and $50 in odd jobs — it seems impossible to find an alternative.

He was joined on Thursday afternoon by Pearline Nichols, a former park resident. She said her ankles were swollen from sleeping in a Kia Forte after the closure, and much like her peers, she faced obstacles to finding a new home.

Along with the pricey deposits, she found it hard to meet the income requirement at most apartments. It was especially hard, she said, to find housing that was both affordable and pet friendly.

Just before Nichols left the trailer park, she joined neighbors in one last celebration, complete with food and fireworks. But the noise scared off her dog, Lilly, before a good Samaritan brought her back after several days.

With financial help from Turning Points, she hopes to find a home where she can resume life with Lilly.

“I love her to death,” Nichols said. “I can’t leave her. It’s like a child.”

Former resident David Smith fought back tears on Thursday, recounting the moment he gave away Hooch, a beagle-hound mix. Smith also gave away his bird, Mickey, fearing the animals would suffer as he bounced between hotels and the vacant lot.

Smith had one of 25 occupied lots at W.T. Mobile Home Park before it closed, and he’s now among five people who stay at the empty field when a hotel becomes unaffordable.

To afford the motels, Smith recently sold electronics and even his wife’s cherished ring.

“I know it broke her heart by doing it, but she had to give her wedding band up just for us to get off the street,” he said. “I don’t want her to be on the street. I don’t even want her sleeping in that car.”

Giuseppe Sabella, education reporter for the Bradenton Herald, holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He spent time at the Independent Florida Alligator, the Gainesville Sun and the Florida Times-Union. His coverage of education in Manatee County earned him a first place prize in the Florida Society of News Editors’ 2019 Journalism Contest. Giuseppe also spent one year in Charleston, W.Va., earning a first-place award for investigative reporting.