As Hurricane Ian approaches, most of us are busy worrying about having enough canned tuna or a generator to make sure we don’t go without air conditioning for more than 24 hours.
But what happens to Sarasota’s homeless residents? There are an estimated 1,200 unsheltered people in our area and zero beds available to them. How does one prepare for a hurricane without a home?
Cathy Bryant, director of operations at Streets of Paradise, a local homeless outreach nonprofit, says it’s difficult up until the very last minute. “While the rest of us are preparing, there’s literally nothing for [the homeless] to do until it gets decided whether or not they will have shelters,” Bryant said.
If and when the local government decides to open emergency shelters, Sarasota County Transit will provide free transportation to the shelters. But that’s only if the storm crosses that threshold.
“All of us are sitting around waiting, doing our best to get ready,” Bryant says. “Clearly we are getting a terrible storm, regardless, but now [the homeless] are left at the mercy of whether it’s bad enough to have shelter. Otherwise, they’re just outside.”
Sarasota County has changed its emergency shelter policy. It used to be that in order to get into one of the shelters, a person must provide an ID, which for unhoused populations isn’t necessarily a guarantee. County officials told Sarasota Magazine that they no longer require ID.
Homeless populations across the country suffer acutely during natural disasters. The unhoused don't have the funds to evacuate and they are often forced to stay in the path of the storm. Many rely on retirement or government checks that come at the end of the month, so they may not have the funds to leave dangerous areas or purchase emergency supplies.
Streets of Paradise has used its mobile services to communicate with the local homeless population, providing information about places to stay during the storm and services that will be provided after it passes. The organization’s mobile shower trailer will be operational as soon as the weather clears.
“We will have our showers back up as soon as possible so that people can get dry clothes and clean up after the storms are over,” Bryant says. “Our showers are available to anyone in the public. You don’t have to be unhoused.”
There are many ways to help our homeless population during a hurricane. “Others could put people in hotels, and we could facilitate that,” Bryant says. “I know it’s a costly endeavor.”
If you have items like ponchos, raincoats, dry clothing to donate, reach out to Streets of Paradise on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also call Bryant directly at (620) 481-0446. streetsofparadise.org