For residents displaced by the wave of hurricanes in the Southeast, home is the place where they are staying tonight. Home might have been somewhere else the night before, and it could be a different place tomorrow.
Those residents who have no other place to go have turned to short-term shelters and other temporary housing until they can get back on their feet. In past natural disasters, it has taken years for some displaced residents to move on from this temporary housing. The triple blow of hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan within the past month has taxed the resources of federal and volunteer relief efforts, and the population of displaced residents has swelled with the arrival of each massive storm.
“This is the largest sheltering and feeding operation in American Red Cross History,” said Kelly Donaghy, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. “That’s over a 120-year history – it is a massive effort for us.” About 17,000 Red Cross volunteers have participated so far in the relief efforts, Donaghy said Wednesday.
The organization’s relief operations for the wave of hurricanes have cost about $68 million so far, she said, and the organization has raised about $38 million to help offset this cost. She encouraged continuing support to keep the organization’s relief effort rolling.
While volunteers at Red Cross shelters typically can sometimes spend two to three weeks to assist relief efforts following natural disasters, the onslaught of several hurricanes has led many volunteers to stay on to assist victims of the successive storms, Donaghy said. “A lot of them are in their fifth week now, with no end in sight.” As Hurricane Ivan approached the Gulf Coast on Wednesday, the organization’s volunteers were making preparations to open a series of temporary shelters to assist those residents who were forced to leave their homes.
The Red Cross set up about 253 shelters for residents fleeing Hurricane Charley, and another 340 for those who were impacted by Hurricane Frances. The shelter population peaked at about 101,744 for Charley and about 183,979 for Frances, and Red Cross volunteers served a total of about 5.5 million meals to residents displaced by hurricanes Charley and Frances.
There were about Red Cross 25 shelters open as of Monday for residents fleeing the incoming Hurricane Ivan, and the population of residents displaced by that storm event “is going to grow hugely tonight,” she said.
The Red Cross focuses on short-term housing needs relating to disasters, said Donaghy. “We usually have our shelters open after the storm for a few days. It is very situational – it depends how many homes are destroyed and how quickly they can find other family members to (stay) with. Sometimes when we get down to a low number (of shelter residents) we put them up in hotels for a few days.”
Facilities with large rooms, such as school gymnasiums, tend to be a favorite spot for Red Cross shelters, she said. “The building has to be built well. We prefer bathroom facilities, shower facilities and, if possible, kitchens.”
For longer-term temporary housing needs, the Red Cross coordinates with other federal agencies, and especially the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Eugene Brezany, a public affairs officer for FEMA, said Wednesday afternoon that the agency had received about 377,500 applications for disaster assistance in the wake of hurricanes Charley and Frances, and had already provided about $108.9 million in housing assistance.
That money, he said, is provided “either to make repairs (to storm-damaged homes) or to rent alternate accommodations.” Those grants for repairs and/or temporary housing costs have been doled out to about 29,647 total households relating to Hurricane Charley, he said, and to about 46,448 households for Hurricane Frances.
Also, as of Wednesday afternoon there were 462 FEMA-provided manufactured housing units for residents displaced by Charley and Frances, and another 494 manufactured housing units ready for occupation. “They are all over the state. A number of them are in private driveways, some are in private parks,” he said.
Some homeowners’ insurance policies provide for temporary housing for those residents who are displaced by natural disasters.
Carlsbad, Calif.-based CRS, among the top companies in the temporary housing industry, has helped to place hundreds of families and individuals put out by the hurricane invasion in the Southeast. CRS works with dozens of insurance companies to place policyholders in a range of accommodations, including hotels, apartments, town homes, condominiums, single-family homes and mobile homes. CRS typically places policyholders in approved properties within 72 hours, and offers units with furniture, housewares, appliances and other amenities.
Kim Freid, vice president for CRS, said, “Our goal is to find a home within two to three miles of the damaged property. Once the family approves the location we then put together a quote for the insurance company that would include all of the furnishings.” The company aims to place families and individuals in a temporary residence within 72 hours, though it can take longer based on the magnitude of the disaster, Freid said.
The average stay in CRS-arranged temporary housing is five months, Freid said. Typically, about 51 percent of CRS’ housing placements are in single-family homes and 49 percent are in apartments or condos or other forms of housing, she said. “We want to put the family in something as comparable to what they have come from,” she said, and the temporary housing benefits can vary based on the insurance company and insurance policy.
Freid said Wednesday that she expects the number of CRS hurricane-related temporary housing placements to reach up into the thousands in the wake of Hurricane Ivan’s landfall.
Some residents who were forced to move into temporary housing because of Hurricane Charley also were forced to leave their temporary homes because of Hurricane Frances, and second temporary homes were required for those residents whose temporary homes were damaged, she said.
Oakwood Worldwide, another company that provides temporary housing services, has placed hundreds of disaster relief workers and dozens of residents in housing relating to this season’s surge in storm activity. “We try our best to stay within a 10-mile radius of home,” said Toni Andell, director of business development at Oakwood. The company has placed a number of people in apartment condos in recent weeks, Andell said. The average stay in temporary housing is about 4.5 months, she said.
In addition to insurance companies, Oakwood also works with corporations that are seeking housing for their employees, she said.
Andell, who personally experienced the trauma of evacuating her home during a Southern California wildfire, said, “It was a really heart-wrenching time. A lot of people who are displaced don’t know that much about temporary housing. There are options out there.”
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