There is a shoe that is going to drop in early January, and it stands to hit a lot of families rendered homeless by Hurricane Matthew hard.
These people are in need of temporary housing, and while much has been said about that need, not enough has been done. There is time to get this fixed, but the state and the feds need to get on the same page.
And quickly. There is a clock ticking.
According to FEMA, there are about 500 people who lost their homes that are staying in hotels, benefiting from the money from the agency’s temporary assistance shelter program. That assistance was originally scheduled to end Nov. 5, but thankfully the deadline for these people to exit the hotels was extended to Jan. 7.
An untold number of displaced people are elsewhere, living with friends or relatives who have been kind enough to spare a room. There are legitimate questions about how many will again call Robeson County or Lumberton home. Our guess is many won’t, not because they don’t want to, but because there will be nothing to return to.
A lot of these people had little to begin with, and are now left with no more than what they were wearing and could flee with when the waters came flooding into their homes on Oct. 8 and during the days that followed. Earlier this week The Robesonian published a story about a man who has made it his mission to cook hot meals for people who stashed in hotels, many of whom literally had been living off of cookie crumbs. It demonstrates just how vulnerable these people have become.
There is help at two local warehouses, where people for weeks have been carrying what they could to donate — clothing to 1401 Starlite Drive, and food, water and household items to 2300 N. Cedar St. All of that is great, and demonstrates the best of humankind during these difficult days, but what these people who have lost their homes really need is a place to call a home, even if it is just temporary.
Gov. Pat McCrory, who has been engaged and effective since Oct. 8, would like to see mobile homes brought into Robeson County. But FEMA officials see that as a last resort, pointing to a myriad of challenges in getting a mobile home ready for occupancy — from finding a place to locate it, getting permits approved, getting it secured, connected to utilities and furnished.
There are other options as well, including rental homes, apartments and the continued use of hotels. Most likely a mix of all of these is what will happen.
Much has already been done to help Matthew victims, including the disbursal of about $20 million in FEMA funding to almost 20,000 people in Robeson County who suffered losses — vital dollars, but a fraction of what they have lost.
But finding more permanent temporary solutions is paramount. Having a place to call home, even if it is temporary, is critical to the restoration of these people’s lives to some degree of normalcy. Almost everything else pivots off of that.
The state and FEMA need a plan, and to implement it with the same speed as those waters that washed so much away.