Offering financial support and words of comfort, U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta visited a specialized shelter for displaced victims of Hurricane Irma at FIU’s main campus. All are residents of Monroe County and many of their homes are destroyed.
“The big message is that Florida is not alone,” said Acosta, who until recently was Dean of FIU’s College of Law. “The president wants to support us as we rebuild.”
The U.S. Department of Labor has allocated $30 million in dislocated worker assistance to meet the needs of Florida workers impacted by Hurricane Irma. Additionally, the disaster unemployment assistance program, providing benefits to those who have lost their jobs or are self-employed and can no longer work, has been activated.
“Alex’s visit to this special needs shelter at FIU show his commitment to our community,” said FIU president Mark Rosenberg.
The shelter at FIU houses 110 special needs patients and is led by teams from the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County and the U.S. Department of Health. A top priority, the health specialists pointed out, is the need for Spanish speaking nurses and doctors. Also a larger space for the evacuees and greater resources for their care.
“FIU opening the doors of a shelter to the elderly from Monroe County speaks to FIU’s heart,” said Acosta.
Some shelter residents are working to help their companions. Hollie Bethany, a resident of Big Pine Key whose home was destroyed, urged Acosta to set up computers at the FIU shelter so Irma’s victims could fill out disaster unemployment applications.
“I’m familiar with the process, if we can set up a few computers I could train them,” said Bethany, referring to others at the shelter in need of assistance. “I’m very proud of FIU team and the help they are giving us.”
Key West resident Maria Morales, accompanied by her son, shared her story with Acosta. She knows nothing about their home, hasn’t been able to communicate with neighbors or friends, and has little or no money.
“We have only our car, a little bit of food and no money,” said Morales. “I need to help my son make money so we can pay bills.”
Acosta remains confident that despite the destruction from Irma, South Florida will recover.
“We are a resilient community,” said Acosta, recalling the days after hurricanes Andrew and Wilma. “We will bounce back.”