Elderly Left Homeless by FEMA Deadline
By Franklin Hayes, Gulf Breeze News
Everyone has deadlines and limitations, including the federal government. Two years and 10 days after Hurricane Ivan ravaged the Gulf Coast the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is officially ending its temporary housing program for the storm's victims effective Sept. 26. As of Sept. 11, FEMA spokesperson Karen Szulczewski reported 127 FEMA trailers still in Santa Rosa County and 374 trailers remaining in Escambia County that were distributed after Hurricane Ivan.
Midway residents Lorraine and Leslie Archer, 72 and 66 years old respectively, fear they may be left out in the cold this winter after the deadline. They have been living in a FEMA trailer since the 2004 hurricane. Their residence was demolished by the storm and their government disability income does not leave them with many options.
"We've been married 10 years on [Sept. 29] and we may be having our anniversary in the backyard roasting weenies over a fire," Leslie Archer said, explaining how the storms depleted their savings and may now leave them homeless. "But we've got each other, that's all we've got."
Lynn Kliesch is another disabled storm victim with a questionable future after the Sept. 26 deadline. Kliesch, who lives within the Gulf Breeze school district, said FEMA lost her paperwork eight different times.
"I've done everything that I was told to do from the very beginning and it has been more than a nightmare," Kliesch said. "I've had more than my share and more than I can take." With the deadline looming in the near future, local FEMA agents toil diligently to meet the needs of those still depend on their services.
"We're working with multiple nonprofit agencies to make sure that everyone has a permanent housing plan by Sept. 26," Szulczewski said.
One of those organizations is United Way of Santa Rosa County, which has handled the county's FEMA case management since July. Since the original Hurricane Ivan deadline was extended from March 16 to Sept. 26 it has been a race against time to procure permanent housing solutions for so many people in need of shelter. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance acts authorize the permanent donation of temporary FEMA housing for the sole purpose of providing temporary housing to disaster victims. The decision to authorize permanent donations will be based on an evaluation of individual need, resource availability and impact on operational readiness.
"This is a multi prong little deal that is a good way to get people in a form of housing," said Stirling Boomhower with United Way of Santa Rosa County. "We have to do something because FEMA is real serious about this deadline."
Boomhower said his organization is planning to take possession of 20 to 25 FEMA trailers that will be relocated from the group site within Milton city limits to East Gate Mobile Home Ranch on Munson Highway. United Way will retain possession of the units for one year, must document their use by storm victims quarterly and provide property loss and liability insurance during that time frame. After one year passes, the trailers will be donated to the mobile home park.
Boomhower, who also serves as administrative coordinator for the county's Long Term Recovery Organization, said insurance for the units has proven to be a major hang up.
"There is a problem with non-profits obtaining insurance in Florida for this particular scenario," Boomhower said. "The insurance companies told us that non-profits in Florida must use commercial policies. Then we were told there were no commercial policies offered for mobile homes."
Even if the policy technicalities are worked out, coverage costs place a financial burden on the non-profit group and the trailer residents. United Way is embracing the generosity of local churches, but more support will be necessary, according to Boomhower.
"We understand there's a real need for churches to come together and help with people in the community," said Jon Twitchell, Program Director for Woodbine United Methodist Church in Pace. "People will be homeless as of [Sept. 26] and as Christians, that's our responsibility to do what we can to help them."
Shirley Cornett, Executive Director of Interfaith Ministries in Gulf Breeze, urged citizens and churches of the community to get involved.
"A lot of times people don't take action on things because they aren't aware there is a problem," Cornett said. "The FEMA deadline is really going to cause a problem for the community. Where are they going to be housed? Where are they going to put them?"