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November 25, 1992, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION

Home builders end up homeless

BYLINE: Lisa Faye Kaplan
LENGTH: 380 words


On a Monday morning at 10, Kristy Karalis rolls out of bed - a dirty mattress on the floor of a wooden lean-to.

She dresses in jeans and a T-shirt and eats a hot dog breakfast at a nearby fast-food restaurant.

Kristy, 11, is from Houston. But her mother's boyfriend is a roofer, and south Dade County needs roofs. So Kristy and her 10-year-old sister, Kerri, followed the adults to the wreckage of Hurricane Andrew.

''My mom and her boyfriend came here to help get this place together,'' Kristy says as she cuddles a stray kitten.

While her mother searches for a decent place for them to live, Kristy pedals a discarded bike through this roadside shantytown, a cluster of 10 shacks and tents filled with carpenters, electricians and other construction workers and families.

Most find day work with contractors; some have been injured on the job and hang around the trash-covered lot all day.

Abandoned lots in south Dade County are littered with people from someplace else - people who left home seeking work and now are workers seeking homes.

Housing in and near the disaster area is scarce.

Hotels are booked and rentals are sky-high. Some one-bedroom apartments that go for $ 1,000 a month are considered cheap.

''How are we going to help rebuild this place if there's no place to live?'' asks Ellen Karalis, 38, Kristy's mom.

Kristy and Kerri, the only children on the lot, romp with a 16-year-old baby sitter during the day. They play Go Fish, eat canned food and practice driving a car along the scarred and parched lot.

''She's teaching me how to drive a stick,'' says Kristy, who sits in the baby sitter's lap and works the car's gearshift lever.

Ellen Karalis plans to enroll her daughters in school, but wants to find a permanent address first.

''I'm not going to put them in and keep moving,'' she says, sipping a Budweiser and smoking a Doral.

Karalis says she doesn't know how the family will celebrate Thanksgiving. She says she'll probably order a cooked turkey dinner from a local grocery store.

Karalis hopes to send the girls back to their father in Houston for Christmas. Looking back, she doesn't think coming to south Dade was such a good idea.

''I wouldn't'' do it again, she says. But ''now that I'm here, I'm here. I am home.''