The new face of homelessness after Hurricane Michael

While many may have an idea of what homelessness looks like, Hurricane Michael changed that...
While many may have an idea of what homelessness looks like, Hurricane Michael changed that perception in the panhandle. (WJHG/WECP)(WJHG)
Published: Oct. 10, 2019 at 7:02 PM CDT
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When you talk about homeless people, there's often a common perception. But like many things in Bay County, Hurricane Michael changed that.

Yvonne Petrasovits, Executive Director of Doorways of Northwest Florida, said, "Folks we're seeing today is a combination of people that are maybe living in a tent on their own property or living in a tent because they can't find a place that they can afford or living in a vehicle or a whole slew of reasons."

And it's not just a few people, Patrasovits said, it's hundreds, everyday people who could have once been your neighbor.

"The face of homelessness has changed. We are seeing a lot more families than we ever have before," said Patrasovits.

Just ask Shelly Summers- she sees this every day in her own backyard.

"Nobody here is a habitual vagrant, nobody here is a worker from out of state. They are all victims of the hurricane, every single one of them," said Summers.

Instead of turning a blind eye she stepped up... taking in dozens of families who now live in a small tent community on her property in northern Bay County.

Summers said, "a lot of what we have here are elderly or disabled. Most of it is families, so the whole family is here not just one"... people like the Pullums- a mom and her children, with nowhere else to go.

"The hurricane came through and we were over in Callaway and the roof blew off and we were staying in tent city down at the church and then people led me to miss Shelly on Facebook and I got in contact with her and she allowed me to come here," said Octavia Pullum who lives in Shelly Summers' backyard.

But for the nineteen residents of Shelly Summers backyard, they worry that on October 10th they'll go from living in a tent to living on the streets.

After issuing warnings, Bay County officials say no one from Summers' backyard will be kicked off her property on October 10th... but she will be held subject to county code enforcement rules and her residents will eventually have to find long-term solutions.

For some, that's easier said than done.

Johnathon Barefoot, who also lives in Shelly Summers' backyard, said, "I would probably be staying around Bay County hopping around Bay County again, maybe with a mobile tent somewhere stuffed in a bag or something where I could set it up quickly in different places because right now it's hard to find a place, especially if you're on your own."

That feeling of being alone is one many of our homeless can relate to. That's why organizations like Doorways of Northwest Florida are trying to step in, providing stability in a time of uncertainty.

Petrasovits said, "From there we work with the person. We get to know them, form a relationship with them and try to make them understand that we don't want to get them in trouble, we want to help them. We want to help them to find secure stable housing and help them to become self-sufficient."

But secure stable housing comes at a price, a price many can't afford to pay... and a tent, is cheaper than rent- a new reality facing many local families still struggling to find their way because of the storm.

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