Eugene Johnson purchased two loaves of bread and batteries for his flashlight. Those are his supplies in preparation for Hurricane Irma.
“I’m on fixed income,” said Johnson. “This hit me out of the blue. I had to pay my rent, my electricity bill and stuff like that.”
In his kitchen cabinet he already had a few cans of tuna and he plans to boil some eggs.
While local news broadcasts have been dominated by images of people flocking to stores all week to stock up on water, nonperishable food and supplies to ride out Hurricane Irma, many families can’t afford to do that. In Miami-Dade, about 530,000 of the estimated 3 million residents live below the poverty line.
Johnson, 65, lives in an affordable housing complex in Miami and, like many of his neighbors who are also on fixed or limited income, he doesn’t own a car.
“I have to depend on other people to bring me water so I have a friend who said they gonna bring me some water,” he said.
He says shopping for hurricane supplies is difficult on a fixed income and with no car.
Now it’s just days before Hurricane Irma is expected to make landfall and most stores are already out of supplies. A small group of community activists and nonprofit employees who got together to discuss poverty and hurricane preparation soon found themselves frustrated that there’s very little they can do to help potentially hundreds of families who might need assistance.
“How can we get resources to help them before the storm?” asked Valencia Gunder, a community activist in Liberty City. “Are there any resources from larger institutions to help purchase these things?”
“It’s way too late,” said Maggie Fernandez with the Miami Climate Alliance.
Gunder sat back in her chair and put her head down. She said local institutions have failed the most vulnerable as a Category 4 hurricane barrels toward the state.
“This just needs to be a learning lesson for us,” said Gunder. “After this storm we need to be on it. Talk about true equity when it comes to resiliency.”
Gunder said the working poor and people who rely only on social security are invisible in hurricane planning because there’s no one coordinated system to help people who lack the financial resources to buy hurricane supplies ahead of a storm.
Mark Moore with City of Miami Emergency Operation Center said after major disasters, ideally people will be self sufficient for the first 72 hours.
“Do not depend on your government for help,” he said. “The government has their handful during an emergency. If you’re able to sustain yourself for three days you’re already ahead of the game.”
Families who can’t do that must wait and see when relief comes — and sometimes that can mean several days. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston last month, many families reported they were stranded with no food or water for days.
Robinson Fenelon who grew in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood said his family could never really prepare during hurricane warnings because they were too poor.
“My mom told us, ‘Listen, I’m buying you guys bread, we have peanut butter in the house. Eat that.’ We didn’t have no generators, we didn’t have money like that.”
This week, the 25-year-old realtor went out and bought a palette of water cases and handed them out to dozens of families for free.
He says one man made him emotional when he told him he didn’t have the money to buy enough supplies for him and his children.
“He said, ‘You don’t understand how grateful I am,’ ” said Fenelon. “He showed me his account: negative $289.”
Fenelon wished he could do more.
In the meantime, Eugene Johnson, who lives off of his Social Security check, is just hoping his supply of a few cans of tuna, the bread and the water a friend is supposed to bring him will help get him through the storm.
“I’m alright with my medicine and stuff,” said Johnson. “So the main thing I’m worrying about is surviving.”
Update: Here are some resources for assistance if you are preparing for Hurricane Irma: