Woman creates backyard tent community for hurricane victims

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - After the tent city in a Panama City church parking lot was disbanded two months after Hurricane Michael, many thought that was the end of the tent population. But one Bay County woman took in many of those residents and is providing evidence that a desperate housing problem still exists in our area.

Lori Hollaway lost everything to Hurricane Michael and before she knew it, she was homeless. "I tell her the situation that me and my husband are in and how we become homeless and everything and she said ok. She said, 'I want you and your husband, y'all stay there at Walmart. I'm gonna have a friend come to Walmart and pick y'all up and bring y'all out here," says Hollaway.

That's how she ended up in Shelly Summers' backyard.

"My husband and I saw on the news about tent city and being raised where we were that wasn't right. That's when my daughter and I went down and started bringing people home," says Summers.

For many in this tent community, just four pieces of fabric encompass all that's left of their homes.

The backyard tent community houses 24 hurricane victims, free of charge, but Summers has strict rules. Residents are subject to random drug tests and must show a valid local address which she inspects to see if it has, in fact, been destroyed.

And just like any other family, every person plays their part.

"We have one that likes to help me cook. We have another one that likes to do the laundry, it just really depends on what they're comfortable with. I don't make them do anything they don't want to do," said Summers.

When asked if she's worried the tent community might be disbanded, Summers said, "No. Because I have 24/7 eyes on the place and not just anyone can walk in. My address is not disclosed publicly for that reason. There are no workers here. There are no vagrants here and when I say workers I say out-of-town workers. These are all legitimately people that lost from the storm."

But for residents of this tent community, home is not a place... it's a feeling. "I know that I'm wanted, I feel it every day when I get up and see Miss Shelly," says Hollaway.

Summers said, "So many people tell me that I'm a rarity and I shouldn't be. I should be a normalcy. This should be what everybody is doing."

She is expecting four new residents to move in this weekend.