For hurricanes and other natural disasters, a community’s homeless population is the most vulnerable. The people within the homeless community may have no protection, nowhere to go and no supplies to be prepared.
According to the Florida Coalition for the Homelessness, Florida has the third-largest homeless population in the United States at 35,900. According to a 2016 report from the National Homeless Information Project, there are over 800 men, women and children who are homeless in Leon County.
One safe place for homeless citizens of Leon County during a hurricane is the Kearney Center. Since opening in April 2015 on Municipal Way near Tallahassee Community College, the Kearney Center has been a place of refuge for individuals experiencing homelessness and emergency housing in the Big Bend. In an effort to protect the most vulnerable from the harsh weather, the center has prepared for 60 new individuals in addiiton to the average 375 that it usually holds. Besides individuals, the center also can hold service and emotional support animals.
Director of the Kearney Center, Jacob Rieter, and his team prepared months in advance for hurricane season. They all strove to make sure all the basic needs of those at the center were met for times like this.
“So prior to this hurricane season we had come up with an emergency preparedness plan and so, we have like a checklist with different things we need to do pending the potential hurricane and storm,” Rieter explained. “For example, we have to order enough food to be able to serve because we can’t get new orders coming in right now. Our kitchen is stocked with enough food for two weeks and we serve about 700 meals a day.”
Rieter says the center is low demand which means there are not very many requirements to come in. As long as individuals are adults who follow the rules of the center, they are welcome to stay in the center however long until they are able to find adequate safe housing. Whether individuals are disabled, veterans or a student, the Kearney Center works hard to provide for everyone’s diverse needs.
Rieter also mentioned that homeless individuals that are from out of town can go to the Red Cross Shelters. According to an official video statement made on social media by the North Florida Region Red Cross, there would be shelters “open for those unable to return home or for anyone in need of a safe place to stay, food, information, and comfort.”
Shelters like the Red Cross and the Kearney Center are what helps keep the most vulnerable out of harm’s way. Above all, Rieter credits the success of the Kearney Center to the volunteers and community support that helps him keep the center up and running every day all year around.
“We couldn’t do any of this, the day to day or the hurricane, without community support so we do count on contributions,”Rieter expressed. “So the thing that I would want the community to know is that we need their continued support. So after the hurricane and they get their stuff settled, look us up and come see us.”
To learn more about the Kearney Center visit http://kearneycenter.org/