Family faces homelessness in due to hurricane housing struggles

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Imagine sitting on the side of the road with all of your belongings. For Martha Bartlett and her family, this is reality.

Martha Bartlett and her family with their possessions outside on a sidewalk in Panama City Beach.

Bartlett, 54, told us, "It [her home] got destroyed. A big tree fell on it and had flooded and black mold was in it."

With some help from FEMA, Bartlett's family says they've been moving from hotel to hotel.

Now, they say they're at risk of being homeless until their new home is ready in two weeks.

They had hoped for an extension through FEMA's Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, but Bartlett said they didn't receive it.

Bartlett told us she is on numerous medications, including insulin, which needs to be refrigerated.

"If I'm on the streets, I'm not going to have a real way to keep my insulin cool, my medicine fresh, and I just really need some help," Bartlett said.

Two weeks can be a long time when you don't know where you're going to stay the night.

"It's like we're still waiting, we're always waiting and that's what's strange to us is that we're waiting to hear something or know something," Chelsey Ecko, the fiancée of Bartlett's son, said.

We reached out to FEMA about what hurricane survivors should do if they find themselves in a similar situation.

In a statement, FEMA said, "Survivors may reach out to FEMA by visiting the Community Recovery Center at the Bay County Public Library or by calling the helpline at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY).

Additionally, FEMA brought in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to deploy survivor engagement specialists to assist households in TSA with formulating their housing solutions. HHS staff have been available and have assisted numerous households in developing their housing solutions over the past few weeks.

Coordinated outreach

FEMA, in coordination with local, state, federal and voluntary agency partners, has continually worked with survivors to develop their housing plans.

Over the past several weeks, FEMA staff have met with disaster survivors face to face to assess their situations, identify unmet needs, and assist them in developing transition plans to longer-term housing.

Additionally, FEMA brought in specialists from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to meet with survivors at their hotels and help them create their permanent housing plans if they have not already done so.

Throughout the process, FEMA and HHS specialists kept survivors up-to-date on program details and deadlines with face-to-face meetings, phone calls, text or emails. To help displaced survivors in the TSA program, staff:
Called or emailed survivors to let them know when representatives would be visiting their hotel.
Met face-to-face with survivors.
Reviewed cases for any unmet needs, missing information or barriers to recovery.
Referred survivors with unmet needs to nonprofits or voluntary agencies.
If needed, assisted survivors with searching for affordable housing.
Discussed their permanent housing plan and personal recovery timeline.
Connected survivors with local resources for legal aid, financial counseling and other services."

As of late afternoon Monday, Bartlett's family told us they planned on staying in a tent Monday night, the day they had to move. They tell us FEMA has also reached out to them.