You’ll see Superintendent Tim Forsen’s Guest Column opposite this editorial. In it he’s answering a memorandum circulated after Hurricane Irma. It was sent out to the county’s Continuum of Care group from “Concerned members of the Continuum of Care” — author(s) unknown.
That’s generally a tipoff that something unsubstantiated will follow. It’s the reason The Record mandates letters to the editor be signed. We follow-up many with phone calls to verify the writer.
This memorandum fit the anonymous letter scenario perfectly. It took no prisoners: “The behavior of both the school district and the sheriff’s department demonstrated a total lack of empathy and were void of humanity.”
It didn’t stop there.
“Yes, these individuals may be homeless, but there was no reason to insult, disrespect intentionally embarrass nor deny them resources.”
We spoke with Sheriff David Shoar and School Superintendent Tim Forson. Unfortunately we were unable to speak with the person(s) who crafted the memo.
It’s impossible to rebut all the charges in the space here, but let us say that, from everything we’ve been able to learn, including talks with other evacuees at Pedro Menendez’s evacuation shelter, the memo is more than bogus — it’s incendiary.
First, hurricane might be considered anomalies particularly hard to practice for —although the school district does do mock runs between these powerful events. Since Pedro was served up as the whipping boy, we’ll talk about experiences there.
In the face of an impending hurricane, schools are transformed from something they are, into something they are not — evacuation shelters — and predominately by volunteers. When they open, evacuees pile up quickly. They don’t walk in the door and grab a corner of a room. They’re consulted, given colored wristbands and sent to certain areas of the room(s) with colored tarps matching the wristbands all will wear. For instance, those with medical problems, the very elderly and other evacuees considered at-risk went to the yellow tarps located next to the medical facilities, showers and bathrooms. Those with young children may have been pointed in another direction: Those with pets in another.
The homeless came in buses and were generally sent to an area, this one closest to the cafeteria — and were first to be fed three times a day.
To be certain, this population was one that the law enforcement people watched more carefully, as they should have. Although this is politically incorrect to say, there are homeless people who lose their homes, and homeless people who lose their humanity then their homes.
Whether or not we like it, this population is more likely to be on drugs —prescription or otherwise. In reality, a bigger problem can occur because they may be OFF their medications, due to the hurricane. There’s illness. There’s dementia. There’s withdrawal.
At Pedro, there were instances of evacuees taking drugs and stealing drugs from one another. There was a fistfight. There was public urination. There were a couple of arrests.
We’re not picking on a population. Living in the woods or on the streets takes a toll in so many ways. Perhaps there should be a movement called “Hard Lives Matters.”
But the homeless numbered about 100. That left 400 other strangers, sleeping on floors in a gym together — with volunteers feeding them, answering hundreds of questions or just holding some hands.
This is a time of high anxiety and general discomfort. People are on edge. They don’t know whether or not they, too, will be homeless after the event. Many were. Many were … again.
In short, it’s a situation that defies the parameters of “normal.”
We know for a fact that the emergency shelters were staffed with caring volunteers and well trained EMTS, law enforcement and National Guard personnel.
They were there for the safety and comfort of ALL the evacuees seeking a port in the storm at Pedro.
Where, exactly, was the author of the memo?