Donna: From Prison To Homelessness…And Back To Prison

“Hey Pastor Chris.” she said, “do you have a hug for me?” It was a Sunday afternoon and church had just let out. My wife and I had stopped at the local convenience store to pick up some Gatorade for a homeless friend that was nursing the after-effects of binging meth. I had not seen Donna in almost two years and knew she had been in prison on drug-related charges in Georgia. She was one of the first homeless females that came to Impact! Ministries looking for help right after we launched in downtown Lakeland, Florida. She slept on our sanctuary floor for a few weeks, volunteered in our clothes bank and loved to sing with the worship songs each Sunday. One day she met a man on the streets who made promises of providing for her if she went with him to Atlanta. Though we all tried to persuade her not to go, one day we looked up and she had disappeared. Her family called several weeks later to let us know she had been arrested as a drug mule (running drugs from the supplier to the sellers) in the Macon, Georgia area. After two years behind bars she was now back in Lakeland – and apparently back on the streets.

Standing in front of the convenience store wearing high heels, a short skirt and heavy makeup I knew Donna was just getting off from “work”. Without hesitation I hugged her like a long-lost friend then called my wife over to join our conversation. We spent about 15 minutes talking to her that day. She told us stories about the things she had seen in Georgia (her very first time out of the state of Florida) and we invited her to come to Impact! for lunch that day. She declined, but said she would stop in later that week to see everyone. She told us she had a lead on a place to live and that her “job” was only temporary – it provided some money and a place to sleep that was off of the streets at night. We all prayed together and then Donna headed down the street looking for her next “customer”. Six weeks later she was arrested for prostitution and drugs. Some of the Impact! team went to her court date to provide support and hugged her one last time as she was led away in handcuffs for a 5-year prison sentence. We never saw Donna again.

The story of Donna is true, though I have changed her name out of respect for her and her family. Unfortunately it is a story that happens far too often with females that have been incarcerated. They go to prison because they have no options for self-sufficiency and end up back on the street homeless because they have nowhere to go once released. This past summer Impact! Ministries discovered that almost 80% of the homeless women we worked with had just been released from a state prison. With $100 on a prison-issued debit card and the clothes on their back donated from a local charity they were dropped off in the heart of downtown Lakeland with no support system, no job, no income and no place to stay. Many had never received any life skills training or job skills training while incarcerated – very few were even offered a chance to get a GED while in prison. In essence, it was set-up for total failure once they were released. As a result many ended up back in jail or prison before the summer was out. Most were picked up for drugs, prostitution or trespassing – all non-violent crimes, but enough to violate their parole.

A U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics survey in 2008 showed that people released from prison were 10 times more likely to end up homeless than that of the general public. The number was slightly higher for women.

– U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics

The last time any organization did a study on the correlation between people being released from prison and people that are homeless was over a decade ago. A U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics survey in 2008 showed that people released from prison were 10 times more likely to end up homeless than that of the general public. The number was slightly higher for women. Last year the folks at the Prison Policy Initiative conducted another study – using the 2008 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics survey as a guide – to take a new look at those coming out of prison and those ending up homeless. They found that rates of homelessness are especially high among several specific demographics:

  • People who have been incarcerated more than once.
  • People recently released from prison.
  • People of color and women.

The entire report is disturbing and worth the time to read. It basically supports everything that Impact! Ministries saw this summer – the majority of women living in homelessness across America were once incarcerated. With more and more states turning their attention to punishment instead of rehabilitation for their inmates, very little skills training, job placement or educational opportunities are available to incarcerated women in the United States. They are released with little opportunity for a life that would prevent them from returning to prison. Statistics consistently show that women that have been incarcerated are the most vulnerable for becoming homeless or being sent back to prison.

For the past decade Denise (my wife) and I have been praying – and dreaming – about a ministry to incarcerated women that will help to provide a foundation for them to obtain a steady income, permanent housing and become self-sufficient upon their release. It will be a nationwide initiative combining education training before their parole and aftercare support through local churches once the women are out of prison. The idea is to eliminate the potential for homelessness for these women before it can occur and to provide a stable, supportive environment that will help them get on their feet for good. Though it will be called a different name, the initiative will function under the umbrella of Impact! Ministries. We plan to fund it by foundational grants for the actual ministry to women and private individual donations to cover salaries and operating expenses. We are in the final stages of submitting the legal documents for establishing the ministry and should be able to officially announce it next week.

In the meantime, Impact! Ministries continues to help women and families daily that are experiencing homelessness. We work hard to provide food, clothing, housing and support for those in need. Your continued prayers and financial support are greatly appreciate and go a long way to easing the pain of poverty for so many across Florida. For more information about how you can help, please click here.

The True Cost Of Ministry

Last week I posted about 5 difficult things we learned at Impact! Ministries this summer. One of those things was that we needed a new model for funding the outreach to the impoverished along with the regular fixed expenses that comes with the day-to-day operations of a ministry organization. In an effort to be completely transparent and open, I thought it might be best to post what our actual costs are on a monthly basis. These totals are based on Impact! Ministries’ costs from June 2019. They are pretty indicative of our normal monthly expenses these days. During that month we had 3 families in hotels as temporary housing, was working with 7 more families to get them into permanent housing, 11 families going through the assessment process, provided 17 homeless vets with transportation to the VA hospital in Tampa and made countless trips to deliver food, clothing and supplies to those in need. It was also the month where 85% of our donations were designated by the donor for specific homeless families. That means that only 15% of the financial donations we received in June 2019 could be used for the expenses listed in this blog post. All totals have been rounded down.

$3150.00 – Temporary Housing

In the month of June we had 3 separate families needing temporary housing. When we got the referral calls from other area agencies we found one family living in their van, another family living in an abandoned home and another family sleeping on park benches at night. At the time, every temporary housing option in Central Florida (Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando) was full. As a result we cut a deal with a local hotel in Winter Haven to put these families up for a set price of $350 a week. Only one of the families needed to be housed for the entire month, so we ended up only having to pay for 9 weeks total for all 3 families to be off the streets until we could get them into permanent housing.

$2100.00 – Permanent Housing

In the month of June we worked with several other area agencies, ministries, and churches to help 7 families get into permanent housing. While other organizations helped with the costs of rental deposits, initial housing costs, furniture donations, groceries and cleaning supplies, Impact! Ministries was responsible for finding the housing, getting the families moved in and covering the deposit cost for utilities (electricity, water and trash pickup). We have a going rate with the City of Lakeland to pay a set deposit of $300 for each family we help.

$350.00 – Co-working Office

On any given month Impact! Ministries is taking 10-15 homeless families and individuals through the process of obtaining permanent housing. This involves quite a few meetings, assessment sessions and office work (filing forms, making calls, receiving mail, etc.). We also have monthly staff meetings, volunteer training classes and quarterly board meetings. Having an office at a local co-working organization (meaning several business share office space, conference rooms and post office boxes in the same building) means we have a central location to work from. When dealing with single mothers or women that are homeless, being able to meet in office space where there are plenty of other people around provides comfort and a sense of safety. It also provides accountability for other male volunteers and myself when we have to meet with a female for assessment purposes.

$325.00 – Storage

Impact! Ministries maintains two storage units in town – one small air conditioned unit and one large non-air conditioned unit. We are constantly receiving donations of food, clothing, furniture, cleaning supplies and appliances that need to be stored until they are distributed to those in need. There are also times when we have to put a homeless family’s personal belongings in storage until we can get them into permanent housing.

It was also the month where 85% of our donations were designated by the donor for specific homeless families. That means that only 15% of the financial donations we received in June 2019 could be used for the expenses listed in this blog post.

– Rev. Chris Elrod

$650.00 – Insurance

When dealing with the homeless, volunteers and staff there is always the potential for physical injury or loss of resources. As a result, Impact! Ministries carries liability insurance as a financial safety net if someone gets hurt or injured. Every day we are going into the woods, abandoned buildings and walking the streets to find new folks to help. Every month we have projects that involve volunteers providing clean up, moving furniture or fixing property. You never know when an accident will happen and when an ER trip is needed. We also carry insurance on the contents of the storage buildings since we always seem to be storing a homeless family’s personal belongings.

$237.00 – Meals

Many times when we find a homeless family they have not eaten any proper food in days. Taking them to get a meal is a great way to build trust, develop a relationship and meet an immediate need. Since there are children involved we find ourselves at Chick-fil-A (great food and a wonderful play area for kids) quite a bit for these meals. Also, we have a great relationship with the managers of both of the Lakeland Chick-fil-A restaurants and they will comp the meals when possible. In the month of June 2019 we took 9 families out for dinner.

$425.00 – Fuel

Each month Impact! volunteers and staff use our personal vehicles to take homeless veterans to the VA hospital in Tampa, deliver food or clothing to homeless camps, run donated resources between other Lakeland agencies, drive throughout Polk County looking for new homeless camps and transport homeless families to meetings for obtaining permanent housing. When finances allow, we do our best to reimburse folks for the fuel used in these ministry opportunities.

$1400.00 – “Salaries”

“Salaries” is.a pretty loose term around Impact! Ministries. Our goal is to cover everyone’s health insurance and make sure they get around $1000 a month as a “salary” for the work they do. To say that Impact! Ministries is beyond a 40-hour-a-week job would be an understatement. Most of us are putting in well over 60 hours per week. It leaves little time for outside sources of income. Unfortunately, in the month of June 2019 there was not enough to cover ministry expenses and a salary for our staff. In the end were only able to cover the health insurance for everyone. As a result our staff members were forced to look elsewhere for income to support their families. By August everyone had found other jobs and were no longer working for Impact! Ministries. Since then I have been the only “employee” of the ministry still working “full-time” on reaching the impoverished and incarcerated. To date, health insurance is still being covered, but there has not been enough income to cover a salary (more on this in a future post).

$421.00 – Basic Business Expenses

With every organization comes basic business expenses. Phone service, postage, printing, office supplies, etc. For the month of June 2019, Impact! Ministries’ total for basic business expenses came to $421. $68 of that was a cell phone from Metro PCS that we use as a our main phone. We rent a P.O. box which is $55 per month. $40 went to postage and stamps. $173 was spent on printing postcards that we give out to the homeless. Each card lists the resources available in the area for the homeless as well as the contact information. We have to constantly update these cards as the information changes almost monthly. $62 was spent on basic business supplies (pens, pencils, paper, tape, printer cartridges, etc.). $23 was spent on new padlocks for our storage buildings as the old ones had become too rusted to use.

$9058.00 – Total Expenses

Impact! Ministries’ total expenses for June 2019 were $9058.

$7200.00 Total Donations (kind of)

Throughout the month of June 2019 we received a total of $7200 in financial donations via online giving, text-to-give and mail. However, as I stated above 85% ($6120) of those donations were designated by the donor to be used only with certain families. All of those families had already received assistance or had failed the assessments by June 2019. Essentially, these were donations that could not be used. We made contact with many of the donors to explain the situation – some allowed us to put the money toward wherever it was needed (about $1755) – but the majority asked for us to return the donation ($4365). As a result we only really received $2280 for the month of June 2019 that could be used for any ministry expense or outreach. Technically that left Impact! Ministries with a deficit of $6778 for the month of June 2019.

How did we financially make it?

Luckily Impact! Ministries had a little over $6248 in savings. Our financial buffer going into the second quarter of 2019 was a little over one full month of expenses (around $12,000). Unfortunately, the same thing we experienced in June (people designating their financial donations and more homeless families needing temporary housing than expected) also happened in April and May. Thus we had to dip into our buffer on two previous occasions by the time June 2019 rolled around leaving only $6248 in savings as a buffer. We applied the entire amount to pay for the rest of the $6778 in fixed and ministry expenses for June 2019. Not paying salaries helped us eliminate $2000 we usually paid each month. Even with the buffer applied, there was still a deficit of $530 owed. How did we pay for this? I sold a personal electric guitar on Craigslist and applied the money to the deficit.


As I stated in the previous blog post, we have taken steps to resolve some the financial problems we experienced this summer. I’ll explain more in a blog post coming up next week. In the meantime, if you’d like to financial contribute to the mission of Impact! Ministries please click here.

Motivation Monday

I was deeply saddened to read about the passing of Ric Ocasek. The Cars’ music was such a huge part of the soundtrack of my teen years and always brings back so many great memories when I hear it. In a world of imitators and “artists” cashing in on the latest musical fad, The Cars were truly a unique and original sound among the monotony of pop radio. Ric was a musical talent that so rarely comes along and will be greatly missed.

5 Difficult Things We Learned This Summer

The summer of 2019 was – by far – the most difficult season of ministry for Impact! that we’ve ever experienced. While we have been able to help get almost two dozen homeless families off the streets for good this year, there were so many others that we were not able to assist. A multitude of factors played into this, but left the Impact! team rethinking some of our strategies, partnerships, funding practices and evaluation system for determining who we could help. In the process God also laid a very specific calling on Denise (my wife) and my hearts about launching a new initiative to help a group of folks that are normally overlooked. To say that it has been an eye-opening and ministry-changing season would be an understatement. Below I’ll share five difficult things we learned this summer:

1. The homeless are getting less receptive and accessible.

Eight years ago when we started Impact! Ministries – first as a church and then more recently as a para-church ministry – the homeless were more receptive to outside people. Even those dealing with addiction and mental health issues were more friendly and accepting of people trying to help. Over the past three years we have seen a huge change in this attitude with many of our homeless friends becoming less and less receptive to outside people visiting the homeless camps. They are also coming out of the camps less often to take refuge or receive help from local shelters. Over the summer it became more prevalent than ever before. For the first time in our ministry there were certain homeless camps that the Impact! team no longer felt safe in visiting. Threats were made against us warning us not to return. Many declined even the smallest gestures of kindness and very few welcomed us back when we did return. Even from homeless families – where children were involved – there was real lack of gratitude toward any assistance. Many felt that they were entitled to the help since they had children. Almost daily we dealt with homeless mothers and fathers showing extreme levels of anger if assistance was not provided quickly and in abundance. In the end we lost volunteers and came to the realization that we needed a new way to evaluate folks before determining if we could help them.

2. We do not have a sustainable way to finance the ministry.

Every homeless or poverty relief organization in America is dealing with a lack of financial resources. Charitable giving donations are dropping across the board – especially donations to Christina organizations. Impact! Ministries has not been immune to this problem. In fact –at this very moment our operating finances all almost depleted. This summer has seen more homeless families in need than what resources would allow. On any given week, Impact! was receiving an average of 8-10 new referrals for homeless families in Polk County. These were not families staying in a hotel or folks we had already begun to work with. These were homeless families NEW to the area living in cars, tents, abandoned homes and even sleeping on park benches each night. Yes, you read that right – homeless parents and children sleeping on park benches. By early July there were no more temporary and permanent housing solutions for these families. Our only option was to put them in hotel rooms – sometimes 6-7 people to a room – just to get them off the street. As a result, finances were quickly depleted and we were forced into making some very hard decisions. In most cases we spent our last few ministry dollars on hotel rooms for the homeless to the detriment of operating expenses. As a result, there was not enough money to cover ministry needs AND for basic business expenses like storage rental (for furniture, clothing and non-perishable donations), postage, liability insurance and basic housing/medical insurance allowances for full-time staff. As we were trying to make ends meet and provide for the homeless, a large portion of financial donations we received were designated by the donor for specific families featured on our social media accounts – families which Impact! had already helped. It meant that we couldn’t use the funding anywhere else or with any other homeless family. It quickly became evident that we did not have a funding model that would financially sustain the work we were doing with the homeless and the operating expenses that comes with running a ministry. Next week I will be posting a video outlining the new ways in which we will be funding Impact! Ministries – we learned them from the amazing folks at Charity Water. By the way, if you’d like to financially support Impact! Ministries, you can click here to give securely online. You can also use our new text-to-give feature by sending a text message to 863-900-8554 and then follow the instructions in the reply. We could sure use the help right now!

3. The government is getting less compassionate and cooperative.

I think one of the reasons for the hostility I wrote about in the section above is that federal, state, county and city government officials are becoming less compassionate when it comes to dealing with the homeless. As a result, they are also becoming less cooperative when it comes to partnering with homeless relief ministries, organizations or agencies. As homeless camps and communities overrun cities across America, the homeless crisis has become front-and-center for the upcoming elections. Politicians and government officials are becoming increasingly more hostile towards the homeless – and are more determined than ever to eradicate them from their areas no – matter what it takes. As a result, there are stricter laws being enacted and enforced against the homeless. There are more law enforcement raids on homeless camps. In some cases, basic human rights are being ignored “for the good of the tax-payers”. We saw this in Polk County almost weekly this summer. Cities and counties all across the United States are demolishing affordable housing options with no plans of replacement. Finally, government officials have begun to ignore or limit the advice that they receive from the leaders of homeless ministries, agencies and organizations. In essence, we are no longer fighting poverty. We have begun fighting the poor – and the poor are beginning to fight back.

In essence, we are no longer fighting poverty. We have begun fighting the poor – and the poor are beginning to fight back.

– Rev. Chris Elrod

4. Too many women are leaving prison and going straight into homelessness.

Over the years Impact! Ministries has come to realize that many of the homeless women that we work with have spent time behind bars. Often they leave prison with little more than the clothes on their backs and $100 on a prison debit card. Job opportunities are limited and a proper support system of family or friends in almost non-existent. As a result, a large portion of these women find themselves back to committing crimes or living on the streets within months of being released. This summer almost all of the homeless women that Impact! worked with had recently been incarcerated and had no place to go when they were released. Statistics show that over 95% of the incarcerated women in America will be released – a majority serving a sentence of less than five years. Most of these are being held for non-violent crimes, but are not receiving any kind of educational help or training to prepare the women to be on their own. In essence, it is a set up for failure – almost guaranteeing that women being released from prison will surely end up homeless. Unfortunately there are very few organizations, ministries or agencies established for helping these women succeed after prison. For the most part they shuffle from one homeless shelter to another with little hope for a better life. It is for this reason that Denise and I have begun to sense God’s calling to create an initiative for providing aftercare to women being released from prison. Years ago – while I was a platform speaker for Prison Fellowship – I had a dream of a ministry called Women Without The Walls. Over the next few weeks you will begin to hear more about that dream – and how my wife and I are working to make it a reality.

5. We just can’t help everyone – even when there are children involved.

A few moths ago I posted a photo of a homeless mother and her daughter to my social media accounts. It received quite a bit of attention and response from folks wanting to help. Though we had taken the mother through our normal evaluation process at Impact!, some things fell through the cracks. Not because we were lax, but because of some basic flaws in the process itself. As the weeks pressed on we began to have concerns about the mother’s background and found multiple inconsistencies with her story. In the end we found out that she was in a toxic and controlling relationship with a man that was constantly in trouble with the law. Every dime she was making at her job would be used to buy things for him (who would not get a job) – to the detriment of her and her daughter. Things took a much different turn when we discovered that there were members of her family in the area that would give she and her daughter a place to live – but the man was not welcomed (rightly so). She just couldn’t let go of the relationship. The mother chose for her and her daughter to be homeless in order to keep a man in her life. In the end, the mother failed to meet the requirements for Impact! Ministries – and other local agencies – to help her. Fortunately the family members took her daughter in to live with them and she was doing well the last time we checked.

Unfortunately this story happens all too often – and occurred many times this summer with the families Impact! worked with. Time and again we witnessed homeless parents refusing to do the simplest of things to meet the requirements for help. Quite a few had serious addiction issues and could never pass a drug test. Many had opportunities for employment, but did not want to work – they only wanted a handout. Still others kept making poor decisions that left them and their children in dangerous situations. On more than one occasion we found out that the story the parent would tell us about how the family became homeless was a complete fabrication. If we heard the statement, “It’s not a real drug, it’s only pot” once, we heard it dozens of times. The last time I checked marijuana is still a felony charge in the State of Florida – and will definitely keep you from getting a job or financial assistance around here. In the end, we could help only about 3 out of every 10 homeless families that we evaluated. We spent almost as much time calling the Department of Children & Families as we did coordinating permanent housing options. We have now completely revamped our evaluation process and are more clear with homeless parents about what is expected from them ij order to receive assistance.

In conclusion

I realize that this is not a very positive post with happy stories. However, it is the reality of the work we do at Impact! Ministries. Our goal is always to see people come to know Jesus, but also for them to become eventually self-sufficient without the help of financial assistance. Unfortunately, we don’t see that goal achieved very often. Still – each day – we head back out into the woods, parking lots, abandoned homes and local parks searching for someone – or some family – that needs love, hope and belonging. We greatly appreciate those that volunteer with us, those that financially support our mission and those that pray daily for the work God has called Impact! to. We would ask that you continue your support as we work hard to impact lives one heart at a time.

5 Realities Of Poverty And Hurricanes

As Hurricane Dorian lumbers toward Florida, local residents are already starting to stock up on food, fuel, medical supplies and batteries. In a matter of days there will be no bread, water or milk on the grocery store shelves and long lines will form at the gas pumps. Some folks will choose to ride out the storm in their homes, while others will evacuate until the hurricane has passed. Even after the rain and winds have subsided, the clean up and rebuilding will take months. Occasional hurricanes are just one of the realities of living in Central Florida.

Two years ago, the Impact! Ministries‘ team learned another harsh reality of hurricanes whenHurricane Irma passed over the area – the impoverished are rarely able to properly prepare – or fully recover – from natural disasters. The lack of resources, disposable income and agencies willing to provide help make the effects of a hurricane even more severe for those living in systemic poverty. Many are at the mercy of landlords for getting damage fixed and most do not have transportation to agency centers that can offer financial assistance in the time of crisis. For weeks after Hurricane Irma the Impact! team spent our days patching roofs, clearing downed trees and taking people to area FEMA stations. We watched as the city ignored the most impoverished areas of Lakeland in order to restore power to the more affluent. For many folks in the area the hurricane was an inconvenience for a week. For the impoverished it was a life-changing event that many have not yet overcome.

When it comes to poverty and hurricanes, there are five realities to keep in mind:

1. Food Stamps are a limited resource.

SNAP – or what most people call “food stamps” – is a main source of financial income for impoverished families. With the assistance comes many rules and guidelines for the items SNAP can be used to purchase – which is basically non-prepared food only. This means that EBT cards cannot be used for batteries, flashlights, medical supplies, cleaning supplies or building materials. As a result, the items most needed for dealing with a hurricane are never acquired by the impoverished. Even after the storm has moved on, electricity is slow to be restored which means that EBT cards cannot be processed at grocery stores. While many restaurants are up and running within days of a major hurricane, SNAP guidelines will not allow the purchase of hot food or prepared meals (unless you are designated “homeless” by the U.S. Government). After Hurricane Irma the Impact! team discovered dozens of impoverished senior adults that had gone days without a meal. They found that their EBT cards would not work and they did not have the cash to afford local restaurant food.

2. No disposable income.

Those living in systemic poverty do not have a “rainy day fund” for cash purchases in the time of crisis. There is no way to set money aside or create a savings account for emergencies. Many live in fixed-income homes, going from paycheck-to-paycheck, wading through endless red tape to receive government assistance and experiencing the daily fear of food insecurity. When hurricanes are approaching, federal buildings are usually the first to close – which means those in the process of reapplying for SNAP (which must happen every 3 to 6 month) are delayed. Mail service is usually discontinued for several days which affects those waiting on government assistance checks. Because power is out EBT transfers for SNAP assistance doesn’t happen. As a result many living in poverty go without food, basic necessities or proper living conditions as a result of hurricanes and the lack of disposable income.

3. Lack of transportation.

When a hurricane strikes, public transportation is one of the first things to be shut down – and one of the last things to be restored. A large portion of those experiencing poverty have no vehicles and rely on public transportation each day to get around. When city buses are discontinued – even for a few days – it severely limits folks’ ability to get to supplies, shelter, friends or loved ones or to government assistance agencies after the storm. After Hurricane Irma cellular reception still existed – though spotty in some areas. However, the only way to power a dying cell phone battery was by using a car charger for an hour or so. Electricity was out in most places across the county. With no vehicle, the impoverished has no way of charging a cell phone or making a call in a time of emergency. One of the many services that Impact! Ministries provided after the storm was charging stations based out of our vehicles as we were taking folks to FEMA stations.

4. Agencies are slow to respond.

After a hurricane many city, county, state and federal agencies are slow to respond with clean up, supplies and assistance. In the hours following Hurricane Irma the Southern Baptist Convention’s SEND Relief trucks were the first to arrive with help and assistance. In contrast, it took almost a week for FEMA to get their people set up in the area and the Red Cross never showed. While slow disaster response is difficult on everyone that has made it through a weather-related crisis, it is especially tough for the impoverished. Basic necessities such as food, water, ice, fuel and medical supplies are hard to come by after a hurricane – but are even more difficult when you have no way to afford them. As stated above, when someone lives in systemic poverty there is no “rainy day” fund for such emergencies. Even when FEMA began taking applications for financial assistance after Irma, it was weeks to months before those finances were provided. In many cases the impoverished had already been evicted from their homes, were relying on friends, family or churches for basic food items or had left the city entirely in order to find better resources elsewhere.

5. Landlords take the money and run.

Shady landlords use hurricanes or other natural disasters to take advantage of the impoverished. Most landlords have more than enough insurance coverage to fix any wind damage caused by a hurricane. However, the deductible is based on 5% of the total value of the home. Shady landlords will apply for government assistance through FEMA and use that money to pay off the deductible on their insurance coverage. As this process is taking place the landlord will keep the tenants out of the home “until repairs can be made”. The tenants think they do not have to pay rent since they are not actually in the home. After 30-days this non-payment constitutes a breach of the rental contract and the landlord can thus rent the home to someone else – calling the repairs an “upgrade” and charging a higher rental rate than before the hurricane. The original renter has little legal recourse when this happens. After Hurricane Irma, Impact! Ministries came across several instances where shady landlords received FEMA money AND the insurance payout, but never made the repairs. As Hurricane Dorian continues heading toward Florida, many roofs in impoverished areas around Lakeland still have blue taros on them from Hurricane Irma damage.