Hurricanes Irma and Harvey delivered a devastating one-two punch to Texas and Florida, forcing millions to evacuate and leaving thousands displaced. Now, as emergency responders try to help hurricane victims cope with the aftermath of the storm, previously homeless residents are taking a particularly hard hit.
In Florida, as officials rushed to open emergency shelters for those forced from their homes by Irma, some residents who had been homeless before the hurricane were forced to wear bright yellow bracelets to mark their status. In St. Augustine, previously homeless people reported that they were not only forced to wear wristbands, but that authorities warned newly homeless hurricane victims to stay away from people with the yellow bracelets because they were criminals, thieves, and drug users. One woman described her experience to a local service provider this way: “They treated me like I was non-human, insulted me and others … [They] separated us from other people.”
In New Smyrna Beach, Florida, a community volunteer said that previously homeless people — including some in wheelchairs — were turned away from hurricane shelters and later directed to the Volusia County Fairgrounds, which served as a segregated shelter for pre-hurricane homeless people. A homeless man in Daytona Beach said, “[We] were treated like animals … like we got a disease or something.”
The unequal treatment of “pre-hurricane homeless” people versus “hurricane homeless” people was not unique to Florida. One Houston service provider told me, “There was definitely a treatment of people who had been homeless prior to the storm that was different … [they were] told that …read more