It’s been a little over four months since Hurricane Irma hit Southwest Florida, but many people still need help and don’t know where to turn. And there’s a group canvassing neighborhoods to try and create a network of assistance for people who may have given up.
On an early morning one day this week, a group of five people in yellow t-shirts stopped by the Iona McGregor Fire Station in Fort Myers.
They’re a part of a recently re-started initiative called Project HOPE—which stands for “Helping Our People in Emergencies.” The emergency was four months ago- Hurricane Irma. And the group is helping people who are still recovering from that storm. There are three groups like this in Florida. One in Collier County, this one in Lee County and one in the Florida Keys.
Sara Comito with Project HOPE briefed the firefighters about their efforts.
“We are a group of local hurricane survivors, assigned by the state to engage other hurricane survivors that may still be in need of additional services - emotional support navigation toward community resources - that many may not be aware of at this point,” said Comito.
Fireman Greg Rawls said that people out there—especially people who live in the area surrounding the fire station—are still in need.
“We have a lot of neighborhoods in this immediate vicinity that are not really well off," said Rawls. "We have a lot of mobile communities. And, of course mostly, elderly.With and without health issues. So yes, there's definitely communities in this vicinity that are in need of things.”
Rawls said it only takes one event to make someone insolvent.
After meeting with the firefighters, the group of five Project HOPE members canvass a nearby mobile home park. Most people don’t answer the doors. One person told them to go away. But they did encounter someone who was happy to see them.
Kimberly Curry was a nurse who’s now on disability. She said she had roof damage as a result of Hurricane Irma and lost all of her food from being without power for 11 days. Curry estimates her damage cost about $1,000. She filed a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency—or FEMA.
“I'm on a fixed income. One check a month. Got to make it last, so very tight budget. And that was pretty devastating," said Curry. "But I thought 'thank goodness FEMA is here and they will come to the rescue'. They've got plenty of money just for this reason, to help people out down here.”
But, she said her claim was denied.
“I just am heartbroken over it," Curry said. "And I will never financially recover.”
And, she said she’s given up. But Sara Comito, with Project HOPE, said this is where the organization comes in.
“In these cases, we make our first contact and then we go back and do our homework to find some of the best resources that are the most appropriate for our contacts and go back to them and say ‘hey we found these resources, we think they’re appropriate for you,’” she said.
Project HOPE is funded through the Central Florida Behavioral Network, by Collier County’s chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness and FEMA. The project ceases operations on September 30th. But Comito says if things go according to plan, Project HOPE will have established a strong community network that’ll weather the next storm.