Meet Yvonne Petrasovits, a 2019-2020 Disaster Feedback Fellow who is supporting people who are homeless as they build new lives after a devastating hurricane.
A: Doorways of Northwest Florida is working to end homelessness in a six-county area in northwest Florida, mainly rural counties and one larger city that supports the surrounding areas. Across the entire country, there’s a homelessness epidemic. In our little area, we had smaller numbers. Then we were hit by Hurricane Michael, which increased homelessness quite severely—it nearly tripled the number of people who were homeless. Now we have morphed into a little disaster recovery, counseling, case management, and housing. It’s taken on a whole new level of intensity for us.
Our goal is to connect the community with resources, so we’re a logical place for people to come to. They might think they need assistance getting a new ID card after losing one in the storm, but it turns out they need a whole lot more. Through our conversations with them, we’re able to point them in the right direction. We’re able to help them get off the ground, whether it’s an ID card, finding an apartment, finding a job, putting a down payment on utilities, or whatever it might be to get them to the next stage. We then work with them over the course of the next months up to a year to help them get stabilized.
A: It makes me feel really good when I see people who have the potential but just need a little more information, a little guidance, maybe a little help setting up a budget so that they can pay their rent for a long period of time. We have wonderful stories to share.
For example, Martha was renting during the storm, and her building was destroyed. She rented another place, but the landlord decided to increase the rent significantly. She ended up losing her home and becoming homeless. She came to our community recovery center and said she didn’t know what to do—she had a job, but she was struggling to find the money for a down payment. We were able to put her in a shelter program that offers transitional housing, and she stayed there for two months while she saved money. We then worked with her to change jobs, so she found a job that was paying more. She was able to save money for a deposit, and not only did she get a new apartment about a month ago, but she also got a car! To be able to see her smiling, standing outside her car, outside her apartment, going to work—that’s what drives us every day.
A: When someone is homeless, it’s not by choice. What I’d like people to know is that you should always be compassionate for your fellow person. You’re not walking in their shoes; you don’t know what has happened to them to put them in the situation they’re in.
A: GlobalGiving has been fantastic, not only through funding that allows us to put people in the transitional housing program, but more importantly, I’m learning so much from other people who have experienced disasters. It’s helping get the word out about our organization, and it reminds people that we had a devastating hurricane and lost 70% of our housing, so we still need support even 15 months after the storm.
A: Communication. Immediately after the hurricane, I saw a bunch of organizations come in that didn’t know anything about our organization and didn’t involve the locals. They might have involved the local government, but that’s not the same as community members and local nonprofits that have their ear to the ground every day. Everyone works in a silo, so you’ve got the Red Cross over here, a couple of homebuilders over there, and there’s no sharing of information.
Immediately after the hurricane, I saw a bunch of organizations come in that didn’t know anything about our organization and didn’t involve the locals. They might have involved the local government, but that’s not the same as community members and local nonprofits that have their ear to the ground every day.
We’re running the community recovery center, which is actually the first of its kind in the country. Under one roof, we had the rebuilding organization, disaster case management, crisis counseling, health care, case management, financial assistance, ID cards, educational opportunities, and job-finding resources. If you could open up a recovery center immediately after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) leaves, that’s so helpful for the residents. To be able to go to one place and take care of all your needs is really terrific. We also have a team that visits people if they’re unable to make it to the center and helps them find all the resources they need.
Learn more about how GlobalGiving’s Disaster Feedback Fellows are sharing best practices to bolster community-led relief efforts.Featured Photo: Meet Executive Director Yvonne Petrasovits by Doorways of NWFL
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