These Families Can’t Wait Any Longer!

The “system” is broken. Time for Congress to fix it, starting in Milton, FL.

Milton, FL has a Naval air base at the edge of town. Photo by Diane Nilan

This saga of a dozen families in a Milton, FL trailer park racing headway into homelessness is getting old. Especially for them. They were told less than 2 weeks in advance that their water was being shut off due to a septic tank leak in their little park. The water was shut off Friday, the 13th of July.

They were told they’d have to move. They thought help was on the way. But now they’re tumbling towards full-blown homelessness. And those who should be helping seem to be dropping the ball or not even caring that this disaster is full blown.

Sure, it’s a difficult situation, with many challenges. The families face difficulties, such as:

  • They’re income-challenged. They don’t have the money for a move.
  • They’re (in some cases) not perfect tenants. Some are not going to be offered a place because of blemishes on their record — credit, criminal, past evictions, etc. (No one is perfect but past mistakes shouldn’t put you on the fast track to homelessness.)
  • They’re not able to find places they can afford. Scarcity of affordable rental housing is real here in Milton as well as the rest of the country. When you find a possible place, you need to sign the lease right away or it goes to the next customer. And you need (at least) first month’s rent and security deposit, plus utilities’ deposits.
  • They have too many people in their unconventional households. Some mobile home units in this park have more than one family living together — doubled up. Most property owners are not so fond of that.
  • They have “too many” kids. Some families have more than 2 kids, also not popular with rental agents.

In steps the United Way of Santa Rosa County:

  • They went to the park, spoke to renters and owners (2 own their own units), and spoke to the media saying,
“These people are in dire straights,” Thompson said. “We’re going to take care of these people. The ones who want to be taken care of, we want to assist.” (Pensacola News Journal, 7/19/18)

Of course, residents got hopeful they were going to get help to move. And United Way officials were hopeful they’d be able to provide assistance. Their game plan, as described in PNJ, 7/19/18:

Thompson said United Way officials will tap into the nonprofit’s disaster relief funds to assist. He said a budget will be established over the next few days, but he estimated United Way would need approximately $10,000 to $15,000 to help the residents who want to move.
Thompson said the expenses will likely drain the United Way’s disaster relief budget, and the organization will need donations to replenish those funds.

The Reality Gap

Evidently, families are learning that they’re only going to get a little help — one month’s rent in most cases. Not enough to move. And they need a lease which they won’t get without the full amount of money.

The 2 who own their trailers have more of a problem — they have to find a lot and then get their homes moved. That’s expensive, probably $5,000. Or they walk away from their homes. Unacceptable.

Little help, as I pointed out in yesterday’s post is akin to:

Offering a lifepreserver to a drowning person, with certain expectations, like “swim over to this spot and I’ll hand it to you,” might be a tad unreasonable. “Go get a lease and we’ll maybe pay the first month’s rent and/or security deposit,” is unreasonable to beleaguered renters.

I’ve got names and numbers of residents willing to tell of their experiences trying to move. Contact me.

Another Missing Component — HUD’s Local Representatives

HUD, the federal agency charged with addressing homelessness, doesn’t appear to be fond of families. Photo by Diane Nilan

This is homelessness in the making, just as if a hurricane, tornado, fire, or any other disaster destroyed the housing of a dozen families. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is charged with stepping up for this kind of situation via the local HUD-funded agencies that comprise the Continuum of Care.

According to my sources, these local representatives have not been present or involved. Maybe they’re too busy with other homelessness issues? Maybe because these are families and HUD doesn’t seem to care as much about families, so the sense of urgency is, um, less? Maybe because the “system” that is supposed to work to address homelessness is broken?

Want to Help? MAKE SOME CALLS!

HUD must report to Congress. So Milton’s Congressman Matt Gaetz needs to be brought in on this. He’s likely in his home district this week. His contact info.

Pensacola Office 
226 S. Palafox Place, 6th Floor
Phone: (850) 479–1183 | Fax: (850) 479–9394
Pensacola, FL 32502

State Representative Jayer Williamson also needs to reach out with substantive help for his constituents. His contact info.

As does State Senator Doug Broxson. His contact info.

Call the Santa Rosa County Commissioners. Mr. Robert Cole is the chair and represents the families at the trailer park. He heard Melissa testify to the commission on July 20.

  • Ask him to design and implement a response equal to what would happen if a tornado struck this trailer park.
  • Ask him to coordinate the involvement by the United Way’s and the Continuum of Care.

Homelessness Is Real — And It Impacts Families. Imagine Yours.

For over 30 years I’ve been pointing out that situations like this are way more common than most people could realize.

Melissa’s family home since Hurricane Ivan. Photo by Diane Nilan

Melissa, one of the mothers leading the charge for getting help for the families, lives in the trailer park. I met her in 2006 when I interviewed her amazingly articulate and insightful daughters for my first documentary on families experiencing homelessness, My Own Four Walls.

Melissa agreed to be in our next film, a feature-length documentary, on the edge: Family Homelessness in America, where she was one of 7 courageous, astute women who shared their stories.

Knowing most people don’t have time to watch the (free) hour-long documentary, take a look at this clip, where Melissa talks about her fear of being homeless again.

on the edge: Family Homelessness in America. Here’s the link if the above embedded link doesn’t work. It takes you to 7:40 where Melissa talks about becoming homeless again.

Donations

If you want to donate to help Melissa and/or any/all of the families in this trailer park, you may donate to United Way of Santa Rosa County.

If you, for whatever reason, don’t want to donate through UWSRC, my nonprofit will accept donations and filter them — 100% — to the families. Just indicate MILTON in the comments.

Don’t Wait Any Longer! Pull Out All the Stops! This Means YOU!

Teetering on the edge of homelessness is horribly stressful for parents and kids. Ratchet up the response to this emergency that will quickly help these families resettle! If it helps, imagine your family in this position of having nowhere to go. Come on, good people of Milton! Show the rest of America how it’s done!