Since Hurricane Ian’s hit on Sept 28, Pine Island and Matlacha residents have banded together to help restore their tiny but mighty community.
However, many have voiced that they still feel in the dark regarding critical resources and who to go to in times of crisis, even two months after the storm.
In an effort to answer questions and address the needs of residents, the Greater Pine Island Civic Association held a post-Ian recovery meeting with local and state recovery organizations.
Residents packed the pews at the Pine Island United Methodist Church Tuesday evening, eagerly awaiting updates from leaders on next steps, debris pick-up, temporary housing and more.
Pine Island Cares shares status of recovery efforts
In the wake of Ian’s landfall, multiple organizations and agencies stepped up to provide materials, resources, and care to those impacted, especially those on Pine Island and Matlcha.
GPICA addressed the ongoing need for support in these communities, adding that all these efforts are greatly appreciated but they need to be organized, so everyone is helped.
“There are still people living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions as they try to repair what's left of their homes. There are still residents without transportation who remain isolated on the back roads, there are elderly people who need to get to medical appointments. There are people out of work,” GPICA President Helen Fox said. “There are people whose entire businesses have been destroyed and we want to help them all.”
Six organizations have since banded together to form the “Pine Island Cares” group to sort out recovery efforts and not duplicate any resources that could be needed elsewhere on the island. They have also worked together to build a resource guide, so residents can easily find food, necessities, assistance programs and housing.
Each group had a member speak on what they were currently working on and what they viewed as the island’s most pressing needs.
Here are their key focuses:
They are partnering with the American Legion to provide rebuilding supplies to islanders. Their goal is to partner with the local Ace Hardware and provide supplies weekly, such as plywood, drywall, drywall screws and more.
They will provide “honeywagon” services, which is a truck or trailer meant to release the waste from black and gray tanks in RVs. You must be a Pine Island resident and be living in your RV as a result of Ian to receive this service.
Starting Thursday (Dec. 8), they will be working with a taxi service to provide free transportation from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The service will take residents from stops in Bokeelia and Saint James City to grocery stores, doctor’s offices, FEMA tents and other critical stops. Must be a resident of Pine Island or Matlacha and show proof of I.D.
United Legion 136
They will continue to offer lunch at their site, located at 4106 Stringfellow Road, Saint James City. As of Dec. 1, it is no longer free, but they will still provide meals and spaces to those who need it.
In conjunction with the GPICA, they have Beacon of Hope representatives at their site to help residents sign up for temporary housing through the government website. They have so far helped bring a trailer for a resident on the island.
They are working to provide transportation to the Lee County Civic Center for residents to get signed up for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) this weekend. Once they have a route and stops determined, they will post it to their social media accounts.
United Cajun Navy
They have addressed 118 homes and done 350 wellness checks since Ian’s hit.
Officials addressed a further need for mental health counselors throughout the island to address those still going through hardships. They also stressed the need for temporary housing.
Will be pulling out of the area on Dec. 12, determined to have organizations to fill in the remaining tickets once they leave.
Ran a Google survey on their social media to see where residents are and what they needed most, helping over 150 homes throughout the island.
Most of their work has been cleaning out debris from inside and outside homes. Members said they are focused on an individualized approach and seeing what a specific person needs rather than trying to cover a blanket area.
Also focused on trying to help those who are isolated and don't have any social media, bringing them resources and making them feel less alone.
Lastly, they are trying to stop inaccurate rumors from spreading throughout the island and getting in the way of rebuilding, adding the resource page will be a great way to stop incorrect information from spreading.
Beacon of Hope
Formed in 2004 after Hurricane Charley, members said they are permanent and will not be going anywhere.
Through donations, they have been able to pay rent, bills and pay for repairs for several residents. They are also doing a food bank every Saturday, located at 5090 Doug Taylor Cir, St James City.
First Baptist Church of Pine Island
The church, located at 5701 Pine Island Road, Bokeelia, FL, will continue to offer hardware supplies for Pine Island and Matlacha residents in need. They will also be distributing food and other resources.
They will be hosting organizations and volunteers from different states and cities.
They also encouraged those needing someone to talk to or vent to during this traumatic time to head to their church. They will lend an ear to whoever needs it.
To view the Pine Island Care’s resource guide, visit GreaterPineIslandResourceGuide.com.
Printed versions are available at the following locations for pick-up:
American Legion Post 136: 4106 Stringfellow Road, Saint James City
Beacon of Hope: 5090 Doug Taylor Circle, St. James City
Pine Island United Methodist Church: 5701 Pine Island Road, Bokeelia
First Baptist Church of Pine Island: 5363 Ave. D, Bokeelia
Pine Island Community Church: 5320 Doug Taylor Circle, Saint James City
Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District (Station 1): 5700 Pine Island Road, Bokeelia
Pine Island Public Library: 10701 Russell Road, Bokeelia
FDEM Director makes surprise visit
Slightly surprising the association, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie showed up to the meeting to provide attentional updates and resources. He did first thank the work of residents and the recovery organizations, applauding everything they’ve done so far.
Guthrie promised someone from the state will meet with the association next week to get on the same page and become a point of contact between the island and other officials. He said he will work to get a permanent liaison for Pine Island and Matlacha.
Until then, he encouraged people to apply for temporary housing.
How to apply for temporary housing
Go to IanRecovery.FL.Gov
From there, you will be asked to fill out an application for housing. Guthrie said it will require information, such as name, address, phone number and FEMA registration number. If you have not registered for FEMA, please visit DisasterAssistance.gov, download the FEMA Mobile App, or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).
Guthrie stressed that this is a six month program only and residents need to actively rebuild their structure.
“That's really what my program is all about, the three temporary sheltering program is all about is the travel trailers there to get you out of the horrible situation while we work with volunteer organizations to fix the situation so you can get back in your home and then we tend to travel trailer away”
He said if you're a qualified 501(c)3 organization with the ability to pass through funding, FDEM will give the money to buy materials from Lowe’s. The program sees $25 million from the Florida Disaster Fund, spearheaded by Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis.
Lastly, he touched on the 50% rule for the incorporated region, which is a regulation of the National Flood Insurance Program that prohibits improvements to a structure exceeding 50% of its market value, unless the entire structure is brought into full compliance with current flood regulations..
He said if unincorporated Lee County has said to determine the 50%, then residents are going to use the appraised value of their structure listed on the Lee property appraisers website, then divide it in half. He also said to see if they require an adjustment to be added before dividing, such as 20% or 30%.
“If it costs you more than that number to rebuild your home or to repair your home, then you must comply with the new Florida building code,” Guthrie said.
Residents speak out during public forum
In the final portion of the meeting, residents aired their frustrations and comments to the leaders during the public forum. Questions ranged from “Why did FEMA deny my claim?” to “Why hasn’t my debris been picked up?”
FEMA representatives addressed why a claim could have been denied.
“We're going to look at an insurance company, we’re going to look at locale, a community, a county, a state and at what kind of programs exist. If you have insurance, it kind of stops things,” FEMA officials said. “You can appeal it and if you didn't have flood insurance, if you didn't have home insurance, you move through the process. If you had one of those types of insurance, we're going to wait to see what the insurance company says.”
If residents do get a denial letter, FEMA representatives said they can go through and see what else they are eligible for. With appeals, they said residents can call or write a letter to go over their case and update them on their situation.
As of Tuesday, there have been 4,382 FEMA registrations to date, with a little over $19 million going to Pine Island homeowners for recovery.
Regarding debris removal, Guthrie advised residents to call the county government as soon as possible and let them know how bad the debris piles have gotten.
Several residents questioned the lack of any Lee County government officials at the meeting, despite being invited by the association.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Pine Island residents tackle important issues in post-Ian meeting