Dispossessed island residents ask when, if FEMA housing will arrive

Reporter: Asha Patel Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
The tent where a woman named Sharon lives on her front lawn in St. James City after Hurricane Ian flooded her house. Credit: WINK News

A woman who rode out Hurricane Ian on Matlacha while her home in St. James City flooded now lives in a tent on her front lawn, and she is one of several blaming FEMA for dragging its feet on providing temporary housing for people in affected areas.

“Foam mattresses that you get at Costco; it starts in a box and you let it loose and it is solid foam,” said Sharon. “And that’s what kept me up out of the water.”

Sharon lost many memories; everything that was inside of her home has been left out on the curb to be hauled away, something almost everyone on her street has had to do. A friend of hers brought over the tent Sharon now sleeps in. It has a bed, chairs and even some decorations inside. But Sharon says she never thought she would have to live like this.

“It’s just such an experience… I hope other people that haven’t gone through this can see I had to carry my water from the canal before we got water and pour it into the toilets to flush,” Sharon said.

Julie Gaylor, a member of the Matlacha Hookers charitable organization that helps people like Sharon, tells WINK News she is angry with FEMA, because she has not seen one FEMA trailer on Matlacha. Gaylord has called and emailed the agency, but she says she has not gotten the response she wants. Most people living here can’t stay in their homes because of the significant damage.

Gaylor has heard of other people sleeping in cars or in tents like Sharon.

“I really just thought we’d get more help from the local government and the state government, from FEMA, and it’s sad to know that… I’m sorry, it’s very sad for me to hear about people living in their cars when they had a home,” Gaylor said. “This is a disaster— they feel lost, they feel tired, they’re seeing the devastation every day, they don’t get a break from it.”

Sharon, a survivor of Hurricane Ian, unzips the tent she lives in on her front lawn in St. James City. Credit: WINK News

Sharon says it has been a brutally stressful month for her: She lost her husband two weeks before Hurricane Ian and has been left with next to nothing from the home she shared with him. Sharon is now trying to save the few memories she still has, like some photos from her childhood.

“I can watch the water while it rises, and I watched it come up over my dock and the seawall—and we have a 2-foot drop—and then from there it came up pretty fast into the house,” Sharon said. “We reached out to people; people reached out to us. We just never felt like we had the support we expected to have after a major event like this.”

Gaylor also says she has heard from people that Lee County is not allowing FEMA trailers on the islands. WINK News reached out to Lee County to verify the truth of that claim, and a spokesperson for the county redirected WINK to FEMA.

The agency’s response was as follows:

“FEMA, along with our federal, state and local partners, is committed to supporting Hurricane Ian survivors to get a safe roof over their heads as quickly as possible. We are working in close partnership with the state to provide immediate temporary solutions – including utilizing hotels and rental assistance. Our focus is to meet the immediate sheltering need, give survivors a jumpstart to their recovery and bridge the gap between now and the long-term solutions.

“The Transitional Sheltering Assistance program provides temporary housing for eligible survivors at participating hotels and motels to provide immediate needs. Eligibility is determined on an individual basis. We maintain close communication with survivors and will reassess their housing needs every 14 days. When eligibility for a particular household ends, those survivors will be notified seven days prior to their checkout date.

“We continue to work closely with the State of Florida to identify survivors’ needs for the direct temporary housing assistance mission. FEMA will notify applicants who are eligible for direct temporary housing to schedule pre-placement interviews.

“It will take time to transport, permit, install and inspect these units before they are available. Our team remains committed to helping survivors find housing that best suits their needs.”

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