Homeless population is especially vulnerable during storms

NANCY SHAVER
NANCY SHAVER
Early images of Hurricane Matthew included widespread destruction as the storm’s violent eye-wall crossed Haiti, Nassau, and Grand Bahama Island. By Friday, the hurricane had killed more than 800 people and left tens of thousands homeless in Haiti before lashing Florida.

Hurricane Matthew posed a particular challenge to emergency officials seeking to protect vulnerable residents in St Johns County and northeast Florida – the disabled or those living outdoors in homeless encampments, on the streets or along Florida’s many low-lying beaches.

“Our homeless population is acutely vulnerable to these killer storms,” Shaver told Historic City News. “Officials were encouraging people to head to shelters, but not all responded.”

Mayor Shaver weathered the storm Friday and Saturday at the St Johns County Emergency Operations Center; manning a telephone, working through the night, offering vital, potentially lifesaving information to residents across the county. She displayed exceptional leadership during the greatest hours of crisis for citizens who needed her the most.

“In St. Augustine, we have 28 homeless encampments,” Mayor Shaver, who is involved locally in the Continuum of Care, explained.

Of all the shelters set up in St Johns County schools, most were capable of housing 300, but only one reached capacity while the others maintained vacancies for residents, their pets, and those with special medical needs.

Salvation Army area commander Rob Vincent said shelter beds were available, but that some people were hesitant to come in because of rules banning alcohol and drugs, among other things.

Vincent said, however, that by Friday afternoon as the storm was intensifying, few people were still outside, which he took as a sign that most had found shelter.

“This has been a very, very tough week for our staff and for me,” Vincent said. “The magnitude of what we are going to do as we move through this storm and how we are going to take care of the people who have come to us for help … it’s huge.”

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