Florida’s first RV park used by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) to house displaced victims of last summer’s hurricanes is closed for business, according to the Venice Gondolier.
Venice’s Stay-N-Play travel trailer park, which housed as many as 210 homeless families after Hurricane Charley last August, is nearly empty with only a few camping trailers remaining. The park had been vacant for two years before FEMA leased the facility and moved residents in from several Florida counties.
Despite the last homeless family moving out of the Venice park last Friday (May 20), work for FEMA staff is not over. There are still 10,786 homeless families living in temporary shelters, down from a high of more than 16,000 last year after four hurricanes rumbled across the state.
That concern has been magnified as the start of this year’s hurricane season now looms.
Many of these homeless families are in parks staying in temporary mobile homes or travel trailers purchased by FEMA. One of the largest remaining concentrations is the Port Charlotte Mobile Home Park built by FEMA, where more than 500 families are still living rent-free while searching for new housing or waiting for repairs to be finished on existing homes.
Every month a FEMA counselor meets with each family, asking about how the housing search is progressing and offering leads.
“It keeps them focused and moving forward,” said FEMA spokeswoman Bettina Hutchings. “We have people who do nothing but look for rental resources, and then they go and check it out and see if it will work for them.”
Progress is slow. Even though the Venice park now stands empty, Hutchings could not guarantee that every homeless family it accommodated is now in permanent housing.
Some of the victims could have been relocated to another FEMA park closer to where they originally lived, she said.
The park hosted a high of 210 homeless families and was down to 110 by Jan. 26. FEMA rented 350 spots, but never used more than 210.
Of those 210 families, 68 of them have returned to permanent housing, 132 wound up in some other FEMA-assisted housing and the whereabouts of 10 families are uncertain, Hutchings said. Travel trailers continue to be the home for 42 of the families, and 90 of them are in FEMA-owned mobile homes.
FEMA assistance for homeless families runs out after 18 months. When that time period expires any families still homeless will have to begin paying rent for their FEMA location as the federal disaster funding dries up.
“It is a long time,” Hutchings said. “It is our hope, in that time, they will have been able to find something to meet their needs.”