Overtown Residents Get Mixed Messages About Open Shelters Ahead Of Hurricane Irma

Sep 8, 2017

In Miami’s Overtown community, some families are receiving conflicting reports about the nearest shelter they could go to.

At the New Arena Court apartments tenants had hurricane-warning letters posted on their doors from the building’s management. For people who wanted to go to a shelter it directed them to Booker T. Washington High School, a “short walk from your building.”

However, an email bulletin from Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon to constituents Thursday stated the high school would not be used as a shelter “due to roof conditions.” The email  prominently features a cancelled "State of the District" address and in smaller text notes the school will not be a shelter. It does not direct residents to any other shelters.

At the bottom of an email blast Commissioner Keon Hardemon tells residents Booker T. Washington High will not be a shelter option.
Credit Screenshot

Miami-Dade County Communications Chief Michael Hernandez said Booker T was listed as a potential evacuation site, but it is not currently being used as one.  He said he could not comment on the condition of the school’s roof.

Overtown is one of Miami-Dade’s poorest neighborhoods. Many of the residents don’t have cars or are elderly and need help transporting items to a shelter.

The nearest open shelter as of Thursday morning was Miami Central High, about eight miles away. The county is expected to announce more shelter openings later in the day.

Laquisha Jeanty, a social worker who has been helping her Overtown clients with hurricane preparedness said she's concerned information is not getting out to some of the people who need it the most. With many of the updates happening on social media, online and in email blasts, she said her neighbors and clients who don't have the internet or are not proficient in navigating their smartphones are left out. 

"People are not informed," she said. 

The county will be operating free shuttles at the nearby Culmer metrorail station to get people to open shelters on Friday, but Jeanty said not enough people know about these services.

Thursday evening Jeanty and her sister Mekka walked around the New Arena Court complex where they also live to let people know the area high school was not a shelter option.

Jimmy Moore was preparing to leave for Pompano Beach to care for his godmother during the storm. He said he’s fortunate he has a car and place to go because he’s concerned the building's roof might not withstand a hurricane.

“When it rains hard our roofs leak,” he said, adding without a closer shelter, he doesn’t think his neighbors will be able to leave.

“Where all these people going to go at?” he asked. “It’s going to be a lot of people who can't evacuate. They don’t have the means to evacuate.”

The building’s elevator was already out of service Thursday night and locked on the third floor in case the first floor floods during the hurricane.

That adds another complication for people who might want to leave before Hurricane Irma makes landfall.  Carolyn, who declined to give her last name, gets around in a wheelchair. She lives on the third floor.

Someone would have to help carry Carolyn down three flights of stairs for her to leave.

For now, Carolyn said she isn't thinking about an exit plan. 

“I got the lord on my side,” she said.

Miami-Dade Shelters

Miami Central Senior, 1781 NW 95th St., Miami

North Miami Senior, 13110 NE Eighth Ave., North Miami

North Miami Beach Senior, 1247 NE 167th St., North Miami Beach 

Miami Carol City Senior, 3301 Miami Gardens Dr., Miami Gardens

South Miami Senior, 6856 SW 53th St., South Miami

TERRA Environmental, 11005 SW 84th St., Miami

Felix Varela Senior, 15255 SW 96th St., West Kendall

E. Darwin Fuchs Pavilion at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exhibition *Pet Friendly*, at Tamiami Park, 10901 Coral Way, Miami