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.