Hurricanes Do Not Discriminate, but Others Do

The full extent of Irma's devastation at the time of writing is not known. I hope there are few if any fatalities. I want to focus on a couple of aspects of the hurricane as it relates to homelessness.

The first is that there were definitely two groups of people served in advance of the hurricane when it came to sheltering. Take a look at this story from Volusia County (Daytona) here

In a nutshell, those that were seeking shelter but had a permanent residence were offered one type of shelter. Those that were homeless were told that they needed to go to a homeless shelter.

Then there is what happened in Miami. As this story from the Toronto Star demonstrates, people that were homeless were assessed for the Baker Act to forcibly remove them from the street. 

I get that people who are poor, including those that are homeless, struggle to have transportation options to vacate a location where a hurricane is projected to hit. And, I would argue that there may be instances where it is justified to use an instrument like the Baker Act to take people out of harm's way if they are not making good decisions for their own safety.

But I struggle in the selective application of an instrument like this. Maybe I am naive. I watched CNN. I heard telephone interviews with people in the Keys who were not in great structures planning on getting drunk and riding out the storm. I saw people going out for a jog in the rain in the background of a segment on CNN, even with a curfew, and even with debris falling all around. I saw interviews with people planning on riding out the storm on their boat, and post-hurricane interviews with people from mobile home parks. Maybe as a person that lives with a mental illness I find it stigmatizing that we think of just those who are homeless as unwell and in need of assessment prior to a hurricane, rather than looking also at those that are making poor decisions about where they will be during a hurricane. 

Finally, there will be billions spent in disaster relief, including some forms of assistance for that that did not have any or the right type of insurance. Now I will be naive and suggest this - imagine if we saw homelessness as the disaster that it is, and invested in the same way with the same urgency.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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