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Many in Dunbar community say they have little faith in getting help on Ian damage from FEMA, SBA

Jesse Howard shows the damaged to Earline McCoy's home in the Dunbar neighborhood of Fort Myers, Fla., on October 2, 2022, after Hurricane Ian passed through the area.
Carlos Osorio
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Carlos Osorio
Jesse Howard shows the damaged to Earline McCoy's home in the Dunbar neighborhood of Fort Myers, Fla., on October 2, 2022, after Hurricane Ian passed through the area.

Most in the minority Fort Myers community say it is a waste of time to continue to appeal denial letters they received from FEMA.

Residents in the Fort Myers Dunbar community, who suffered property damage and the loss of most of their belongings, say they have not received any help from Federal agencies like FEMA and the SBA.

Most feel like it is a waste of time to continue to appeal denial letters they received from FEMA.

Recently, the NAACP of Lee County hosted a meeting to assist residents of the Dunbar community get the help they still need because of Hurricane Ian.

Teresa Smith, a Dunbar resident, said she’s been denied by FEMA twice … and her frustration is real.

“Basically, if your house wasn’t wiped away, you can have a lot of damage, but if your house wasn’t wiped away, then there’s no help," Smith said.

When asked about what particular neighbor is not getting the help, she said: ”Dunbar, Dunbar. Your zip code alone…If you’ve got a zip code other than that and you’re applying, it’s going to go through. And I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it several times. But if you’re in the Dunbar zip code you’re denied.”

Dunbar resident Takiyah Perez said her home was badly damaged by the storm and she, too, was denied by FEMA. She was told to re-apply. Now she’s questioning the whole process.

“After they deny me again, with FEMA, then they’ll send me back to SBA. If SBA deny me, they send me back to FEMA. It’s really a waste of time,” she said. When asked about how she feels about the situation, she added:, “I feel like they’re basically picking their areas of the people they’re giving money to.”

FEMA representative Keith Jones said he understands the frustration of those who have been denied by FEMA. “A lot of things are discouraging," he said. "And nothing we can do and nothing any of these organizations can do can be fast enough to put them back in the life that they had on September 27th, before Ian hit the next day. But you have to have hope and you have to have tenacity," said Jones.

James Muwakkil is the branch president for the NAACP in Lee County. He has been working to get the basic support residents need to help them recover from the storm.

“When you don’t give support to people who need help with lights, water, food clothing, gas, but you give it to other communities, that is, in fact, discrimination. And we are considering filing a federal civil rights complaint,” Muwakkil said.

He also sees a pattern of neglect from federal and state leadership.

“What citizens are saying is that we’ve been neglected. Like for instance, the Army Corps of Engineers in doing blue tarp, no one done any blue tarp in the black and brown community. No agency assisted us to this day.”

With all that’s been lost by those hit by Hurricane Ian, Teresa Smith says recovery and rebuilding is often up to the individual, families and the community helping one another and through the help of the government.

“What can you do at this point? It made it clear, appeal, appeal, appeal, that’s all they’re telling you. So you just pull up your bootstraps and make it happen. Whatever way that is, I don’t know. You gotta do what you gotta do,” Smith said.

If you may need disaster assistance, FEMA says you can visit www.disasterassistance.gov, or call 800-621-3362 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Time, or by using the FEMA mobile app.

Copyright 2022 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Bryant Monteilh