Stories of Change

Ms. Coe's house before and after repairs.

Immokalee, Florida: Long-Term Recovery Continues for Hurricane Irma Survivors!

Hurricane Irma made landfall in Collier County–where Immokalee is located–on September 10, 2017.  Immokalee is a town where Latinxs and Haitians make up 72% of the local population, and it is not uncommon to hear Spanish and French Creole languages spoken wherever you go. The Hurricane Irma devastation was particularly massive in Immokalee.

Untold numbers of homes were totally destroyed with mobile homes suffering the worst. In this area of Collier County, which already struggles with a poverty rate of 44%, families had no financial means to recover. They also are uneducated about the processes of disaster recovery. Many were not aware of FEMA assistance availability or did not/could not follow up appropriately with needed FEMA document requests. Immokalee has been blessed with many community partners to steer, assist and engage in efforts to elevate the numerous unmet Hurricane Irma needs still plaguing the community.

The Immokalee Unmet Need Committee has received assistance and financial support from many caring organizations, with one of these organizations being Church World Service and its Domestic Disaster Program. (Other organizations include: Guadalupe Center, Rural Neighborhoods, American Red Cross, Center of Disaster Philanthropy, The Salvation Army, Community Foundation of Collier County – Collier Comes Together Disaster Relief, Benison Center and Naples Woman’s Club). Their ongoing commitment has given the Immokalee Unmet Needs Coalition the opportunity to provide families with new, structurally sound homes. These provide not only a safe living environment, but also peace of mind that allows these families to grow and thrive. They now face tomorrow with renewed hope and a stronger sense of community. Now, they can be part of solutions for their family, friends and neighbors.

Through the support of a long-term recovery grant provided in 2019 by the CWS Domestic Disaster Program in partnership with IUNC, a total of 11 families received support to rebuild their homes. In 2021 this project is finally coming to a close!

One of the families who received support is Ms. Coe. As a result of the generous CWS donation, IUNC was able to assist the Ms. Coe’s family to rebuild a new home. Her home suffered extensive roof damage due to a large tree branch landing on the home. As a result of the roof damage, the floor became soft (allowing for rats to enter the home) and mold began to spread through the home due to the moisture from the water.

Ms. Coe was displaced for over a year! During that time, she found herself struggling to find a place to reside in Immokalee. Housing was a big issue in this community, and nearby family members’ homes were already full and didn’t have living space for her family. The IUNC was able to help her find a place to rent nearby in an RV community, and one that she could afford on her limited budget.

The IUNC continues to provide guidance to her and her family that ranges from childcare, community resources to help with utility bills and food, information on home insurance, and with the help of the Benison Center the IUNC has been able to help with some furniture, too.

This story was written by Ellie Ramirez, Unmet Needs Coordinator with the Immokalee Unmet Needs Coalition.