Robin Young, Voluntary Agency Liaison with FEMA, listens to concerns that Immokalee stakeholders have about the availability of resources in the community. (Submitted photo/Travis Anderson)
You may recall other news stories in which County Commissioner Bill McDaniel questioned why there has not been a push by local leaders to press FEMA into bringing temporary housing units into Collier County. In fact, his concern was voiced on September 28 which was nearly three weeks after Hurricane Irma devastated the area. Collier County Emergency Management Director Dan Summers said on Wednesday, October 4, that the county would be receiving the first wave of FEMA trailers by Saturday, October 7. According to Director Summers, those trailers would be staged at the Immokalee Airport before being moved to their selected sites throughout the county. On Thursday, October 5 and Friday, October 7, two requests were sent by the Immokalee Bulletin to FEMA in order to verify when the trailers would arrive and where they would be staged. On October 7, David Burns, Media Relations Specialist with FEMA, stated “At this point we do not have any information on when and if any manufactured homes will be arriving. I would refer you back to the Collier OEM (Office of Emergency Management) for further response.” Mr. Burns also stated that the vast majority of Collier County is within a flood zone and FEMA no longer moves temporary housing units into flood zone areas. In an effort to try to clarify his earlier statement, Director Summers stated “FEMA elected not to stage trailers in Immokalee at this time as the trailers when sited could be brought from the retail point of sale to the parking pad without additional cost of staging in Immokalee.” However, on Monday, October 9, FEMA’s Voluntary Agency Liaison Robin Young, confirmed again that there will be no form of temporary housing brought in by FEMA because of the fact that all of Collier County is within a flood zone and that FEMA no longer places travel trailers or manufactured homes in flood zone areas. This notion supports the information obtained by FEMA’s Media Relations Specialist two days prior. Ms. Young also indicated that FEMA’s housing team was expected to arrive in Washington, D.C. prior to making their way to Florida. She indicated that any public announcement prior to FEMA’s housing team evaluating the situation in Immokalee first was premature. On October 10, Director Summers requested that the Board of County Commissioners write a letter to the FEMA Administrator and the Governor to expedite the movement of MHU’s (manufactured homes) or travel trailers into Collier County. What’s confusing to many residents is the timeline in which information is being shared. Initially, Director Summers stated that over 250 trailers were being brought into the Immokalee by Saturday, October 7. By the following Tuesday, he was requesting that the Collier BCC send a letter to FEMA in order to press them for information on the delivery of those trailers. Yet, very next day Director Summers stated in an email that “FEMA’s on-site housing coordinator, Donna Weise would be arriving on Thursday, October 12 and was slated to meet with County Emergency Management officials.” He also stated that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers should complete its assessment of available commercial travel trailer or mobile home pads within the next few days. These steps seem to allude to the conclusion that trailers or manufactured homes were never originally ready for staging at the Immokalee Airport by October 4 as residents in dire need were promised and hoped for. The confusion about when FEMA trailers were anticipated to arrive spread throughout the county. Residents in one east Naples mobile home park were told by another County Commissioner to expect the arrival and placement of trailers in their park beginning Saturday, October 7. Residents in that neighborhood started an organized effort to bring in volunteers along with food and supplies to help their neighbors get established in their temporary homes that never came. Even if Collier County residents register for temporary housing, FEMA may only provide travel trailers or manufactured homes if the verified loss of value is greater than $16,800 in an owner-occupied residence according to Director Summers. If they do not meet that dollar-value threshold, residents may have to seek alternative methods for assistance. One of those resources is the SHIP program. The Collier County Board of Commissioners approved the use of State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) funds to provide disaster relief to those who qualify. Currently, a limited pool of funds is available based on varying income levels. From now until October 18, Immokalee residents can apply for assistance through the program at the Roberts Center located at 905 Roberts Avenue West. Collier County’s Office of Business & Economic Development is also offering assistance to small businesses that suffered physical or economical damage related to Hurricane Irma through the use of interest-free loans. The deadline for applications is October 31. However, the EDO has stated that they are unable to set up a temporary location in Immokalee due to staffing issues and the lack of a feasible facility for which to hold a public meeting. For now, the EDO is offering this assistance at the Naples Accelerator located on Kraft Road just off of Pine Ridge Road. A request was made to Collier County Emergency Management to find out how the information was released early which alluded to the delivery of FEMA trailers being on Saturday, October 7 and where that information originated from. Thus far, an answer to that question has not been provided. Instead, Director Summers reminded residents to register for assistance through FEMA as that is the only way residents are selected to receive housing assistance. Several requests were also submitted to Governor Rick Scott’s office for comment related to the miscommunication and lack of FEMA trailers. Thus far, the Governor has not returned the request for comment.