It is well known that the Atlantic hurricane season is from August to October. Unfortunately, this past year had a record breaking season as it is ranked as one of the most active. As everyone knows, millions of people were affected worldwide by these hurricanes. People lost their homes as their houses got destroyed by the strong wind speeds and over-flooding. People were forced to evacuate and continue to live without food, water, and power. Those who were left with no place to stay were sent to shelters. However, what many people don’t know is that these hurricanes have put women and children at risk for domestic violence and abuse.
An emergency shelter is a place for people to live temporarily when they cannot live in their previous residence. A post-disaster emergency shelter, however, is often provided by organizations or governmental emergency management departments, in response to natural disasters, such as a flood, hurricane, or earthquake. With more than 6 million people across Florida ordered to evacuate because of hurricane Irma, thousands of people were crammed into shelters. In fact, there were so many people that many needed to be turned away. “At least 50,000 people have taken refuge from Irma in 260 state shelters…” (USAToday). Due to the expected turnout in the shelters, officials began preparing the shelters in advance, after Florida was declared to go under a state of emergency, in early September 2017. “All of the shelters are built to withstand hurricane-force winds, all are equipped with generators, and all will have police and medics on hand, and all will serve three meals a day,” (PalmBeachPost). People who head to a shelter are advised to bring changes of clothes, snacks, blankets, pillows, any necessary medicine and books, games or other entertainment. This demonstrates how emergency shelters are prepared to protect the people from these disasters, and help them survive.
While shelters may be equipped with food, beds, and medicine, people don’t seem to realize that loss of property, scarce food, water, and the stress from a loss of income during disasters can leave domestic abuse victims vulnerable. During and after a natural disaster it can be more challenging for these women to obtain services and aid. “Domestic violence hotlines may be disconnected, and emergency responders can be overwhelmed, sometimes leaving abuse victims to fend for themselves,” (TheNewYorkTimes.com). That in turn, can lead them to return to or remain with their abuser. The article, “Amid Hurricane Chaos, Domestic Abuse Victims Risk Being Overlooked,” also goes onto state, “When you’re trying to rescue lives, domestic violence remains that hidden thing,” (TheNewYorkTimes.com). First responders are focused on saving as many people as possible, so they don’t usually focus their attention to what goes on behind closed doors in the emergency shelters.
When people were asked if they were aware of what has been going on in the emergency shelters during natural disasters, many were out of words, and in complete shock. Eva Gasparis commented, “That is very heartbreaking. I honestly wouldn’t expect that to ever happen in emergency shelters, I had no idea. These shelters are supposed to be a safeguard for people during their time of need, not put people in harm.” If there is ever a time where New York residents would have to evacuate, she would refuse to stay at an emergency shelter.
Many people like Eva, refuse to reside to emergency shelters. There were many people who had been forced to evacuate, and leave their hometown during Irma. In fact, Bobby Kaltsas and his family had to evacuate from his hometown Jacksonville, Florida. He drove all the way to New York City from Florida for about 17 hours when Florida declared a state of an emergency and ordered people to leave their homes. He stayed at his mother’s house for a week, as his son had off from school for about two weeks. “We left not knowing how long we will be gone for,” (Kaltsas). Bobby and his wife didn’t know how long they would be without work. When asked why he did not go to an emergency shelter instead, he told me that he never trusted the people in those shelters. He felt safer staying with family, even if it meant taking a 17 hour drive to get to them.
In response to the previous national disasters, the National Disaster Housing Strategy was created. It describes how we as a nation currently provide housing to those affected by disasters, and it charts the new direction that disaster housing efforts must take to better meet the emergent needs of disaster victims and communities. “Key lessons include the need for effective communication to manage expectations, proactive planning, and clear delineation of roles and responsibilities in disaster housing” (FEMA-National Disaster Housing Strategy). In support of disaster housing, DHS works across all Federal departments and agencies to ensure coordinated Federal support, identifies and resolves policy issues, and integrates housing with all the other incident management activities (FEMA- National Disaster Housing Strategy). This proves that emergency shelters are indeed making efforts.
It is important that everyone becomes aware of what is happening in emergency rescue shelters. If people have knowledge about what happens behind closed doors, people will pay more attention and be more alert. While natural disasters may be very stressful for first responders, emergency shelters need to be taken into consideration as well.
Written by Maria Milonas