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Storm season poses risks for Central Florida's homeless

A man crosses the flooded intersection near Southwest Fourth Street and Eighth Avenue in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Saturday, June 4, 2022. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP)

Many locals prepared over the weekend, after weather reports confirmed that storm season is ramping up. For many, this means stocking up on supplies, but for people experiencing homelessness in Central Florida it’s a different story.

Kate Santich, communications director at the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida, said community members in need of shelter can count on emergency resources during inclement weather, but only when it comes to named storms.

“If one of the tropical depressions that’s lurking out there now turns into a hurricane that targets our area, this whole protocol kicks in for Central Florida.”
Kate Santich

Emergency mode

The process involves coordination among the HSNCFL, county emergency management teams, community leaders, LYNX bus systems, and other organizations.

Emergency shelters are established, such as community centers, county buildings, churches, and schools, while existing shelters also expand their capacity, sometimes using office space to take in as many people as possible. LYNX runs extra buses, providing free rides to the shelters, while others perform outreach to ensure the information gets out.

“We usually get our own staff to go out and try to find people who are unsheltered and let them know, ‘This storm is coming. You need to be safe, and here's how you can do it,’” Santich said.

She said the HSNCFL and other organizations also advise the community about the bus routes and times, as well as when shelters open up, where they are, which take pets, which don't, and what they’ll need to bring along.

The Space Coast

Not all counties are the same. In Brevard, CITA Mission President Buddy Morrow said, emergency shelters do open up, and while they try to get everyone in, it’s not always enough.

“I hate to say it, in our county there are not a lot of resources,” he said. “A lot of them do go to the shelters, but they're still the number of homeless people that they tie down the best that they can, and they ride them. They ride the rain and the terrible winds out there.”

Morrow’s building has served unsheltered men in the city of Melbourne since 1969, offering basic needs and a bed. He said he would like to see more centers step up.

“I feel in my heart that some of these ministries that do open these cold night shelters will probably come through and open their shelters up for that time — though it’s probably going to have to be a tropical storm for some of the shelters to open like that,” Morrow said.

Not enough 

Severe weather in Florida doesn’t need to be deemed an emergency to cause devastation, but Santich said the system just isn't equipped to handle every event.

She said this is why her organization is working hard to get everyone housing.

“That is one of the reasons homelessness is such a tragedy because being on the street is dangerous,” she said. “People die at much higher rates than they do when they're in housing.”

Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.

Lillian (Lilly) Hernández Caraballo is a bilingual, multimedia journalist covering housing and homelessness for Central Florida Public Media, as a Report for America corps member.
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