Wristbands, seg­re­ga­tion for Fla. home­less in Irma


ST. AU­GUS­TINE, Fla. — Shelby Hoogendyk said that when she, her hus­band and her 17-month-old son ar­rived at an emer­gency shel­ter as Hur­ri­cane Irma closed in, they were sep­a­rated from oth­ers by yel­low wristbands and told to stay in an area with other peo­ple like them — the home­less.

Sher­iff ’s deputies, she said, told them the wristbands were prompted by prob­lems that arose among home­less peo­ple at the shel­ter dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Matthew a year ear­lier.

“We were treated like we were guilty crim­i­nals,” Hoogendyk said.

In the storm’s wake, home­less peo­ple and their ad­vo­cates are com­plain­ing that some of them were turned away, seg­re­gated from the oth­ers, de­nied cots and food, de­prived of med­i­ca­tion re­fills and doc­tors’ vis­its, or oth­er­wise ill-treated dur­ing the evac­u­a­tion.

Many of the com­plaints have been blamed on mis­un­der­stand­ings, the sheer mag­ni­tude of the dis­as­ter, the crush of peo­ple need­ing shel­ter im­me­di­ately, or in­ad­e­quate state and lo­cal emer­gency plan­ning.

All told, a record 72,000 Florid­i­ans sought refuge from the hur­ri­cane in early Septem­ber at nearly 400 shel­ters. The re­sponse var­ied widely by county.

In Mi­ami, more than 700 home­less were picked up and taken to shel­ters. In Col­lier County, the sher­iff sent of­fi­cers into home­less en­camp­ments in the woods to bring peo­ple to a shel­ter. But in Polk County, Sher­iff Grady Judd warned that any evac­uees with war­rants against them and all sex of­fend­ers seek­ing shel­ter would be taken to jail.

“Com­mu­ni­ties were all deal­ing with the fall­out of not hav­ing very com­pre­hen­sive plan­ning in place to deal with this pop­u­la­tion,” said Kirsten An­der­son, lit­i­ga­tion di­rec­tor at South­ern Le­gal Coun­sel, a non­profit pub­lic in­ter­est law firm in Florida.

She said if a shel­ter dis­crim­i­nated against peo­ple based on their eco­nomic sta­tus, it could be a vi­o­la­tion of fed­eral law that pro­tects peo­ple in fed­eral dis­as­ter zones.


Casey Huff­man, with his 17-month-old son, Cae­lan Hoogendyk, sleeps at a hur­ri­cane shel­ter in St. Au­gus­tine, Fla. The fam­ily evac­u­ated from a home­less shel­ter to a hur­ri­cane shel­ter dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma. When they ar­rived at the hur­ri­cane shel­ter, they were seg­re­gated from the rest of the evac­uees and made to wear yel­low wristbands.

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