Living in tents after Hurricane Michael, these Florida residents say they’ve been forgotten

Posted at 3:15 PM, Mar 01, 2019

It's been over four months since Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle, but driving around some parts of Panama City, many would think it had just been four days since the storm made landfall.

Especially if you saw Shelly Summers' backyard, which is now a tent community of 24 displaced strangers.

“And we have more coming,” says Summers.

Summers has been helping those whose homes were destroyed.

"That's just what you're supposed to do,” she says. “How can you go home and shut your door and know that there are people sleeping in the woods? How can you be OK with that? That's not right."

The tents have power, heat and even mattresses. Summers and her husband even built an extra shower.

Summers and her husband won’t accept payment.

“She won’t take it!” says one tent occupant Brittany Pitts.

Instead, residents have found small ways to show their gratitude, like carving a fairy house into what was Summers’ favorite tree before the storm.

But Pitts still can't help but think that no one should be living like this, especially this long after the storm. She feels the rest of the country has forgotten the victims of Hurricane Michael.

"You really see just how much people don't care,” Pitts says.

Summers agrees, "I feel like the day after, we were forgotten about. It doesn't make me mad. It makes me sad, because that's not how it should be."

TJ Dargan with FEMA’s Hurricane Michael Response Team says if residents feel forgotten, it’s through no fault of FEMA, which to date has contributed $136 million in rental assistance.

“Well, FEMA is certainly focused here,” Dargan says. “We have a lot of people, and we're pouring a lot of money into this community. So no, FEMA certainly hasn't forgotten about this. The federal government hasn't forgotten about this.”

But the fact that Congress has yet to fund any emergency relief for Hurricane Michael frustrates local residents, as well as local politicians.

Until there’s more help, Summers believes the tents in her backyard will be her new normal for years to come, but it’s a challenge she says she'll gladly accept.