What's in store for the future of local tent community?

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - One backyard tent community has seen 50 displaced hurricane victims come through, with more on a waiting list. Now Bay County officials want to work with the property owners to find a long-term solution.

Shelly Summers, the property owner of a local backyard tent community, is sharing her response to a letter from Bay County officials urging her to consider long-term options for her backyard tenants. (WJHG/WECP)

Assistant County Manager Joel Schubert said, "We're not asking them to leave. What we're asking for is some communication whether it's through the property owner or if they want to come speak to us directly."

On Monday, Shelly Summers, the property owner, received a letter (attached to this story) from Bay County officials asking to start a dialogue about the long-term solutions for this backyard tent community--something Summers says makes her feel vindicated.

"I feel like everybody here is finally getting their chance to be heard as an individual, not as a group. For Bay County to actually hear what the people are actually going through, not based on a whole broad spectrum," said Summers.

But county officials say the letter comes on the heels of several neighborhood complaints. Now the county is hoping to work with summers to find sustainable long term options for the tent residents.

Schubert said, "So if they're having issues with the federal response, FEMA in particular, we can help with those--we help with those on a daily basis. So we've got to know what's going on. We frankly don't know what we don't know."

Summers says all of the tent community residents were denied FEMA trailers and can't afford the rental market. Joyce Buschmann was one of them. "I mean, it's life, but since that storm, you get enough doors shut in your face with being told well you know, can't do nothing for you, you don't qualify, you don't this..." said Buschmann.

All this while an October code enforcement deadline looms.

"I can tell you there's a time certain that we're gonna start enforcing code and that's October this year," said Schubert.

Summers says she's not worried about the deadline.

"We've already been working on a solution for this since day one. We're way ahead of the game," she said.

Until then, residents like Buschmann will continue to call these backyard tents home.

In a statement, Summers said, "We appreciate the gesture from the Bay County commissioners and look forward to working with them to find the 'soft landing' for the displaced residents of our transitional tent community. We, too, have recently decided that we need to start addressing the longer-term goals for our community, and have begun formulating a plan that we will bring to the board for discussion. We welcome new ideas and assistance. As for the 'complaints and concerns' listed in their letter, we are aware of some individuals who complained after they were evicted from our community for not following our safety rules. Our neighbors and our community as a whole have been unimaginably supportive and loving. We would love to address the technicalities of the zoning issues, and will notify the board that no water goes into our ground from the tent community. We care about the health of our neighbors and the citizens of Bay County and they are welcome to come see how clean and organized we are here. The tent community is not on the protected watershed area of our property and these people are not hurting anyone. They have all passed background checks, are employed, and are subject to random drug testing. This is a transitional, safe, healthy place for our most vulnerable residents and our hope is that Bay County will support us and work with us. We would also like to thank the residents of Bay County for the outpouring of support, love, and help."

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