Hurricane Survival

Homeless in a hurricane

How we can help those living outside when storm strikes
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The stress of protecting our homes from the ravages of a hurricane is immense; but what about those who don’t have a home to retreat to when the waves are crashing and the rain is pelting down like a million tiny needles?

When a basic shelter is not enough, serious considerations must be made. Denise Carey is the executive director of the charity Home, whose mantra is, “Ending homelessness”. Ms Carey shared the concerns Home considers when a hurricane is imminent.

“Severe weather protocols are needed for people sleeping rough when there is an increased risk due to the weather — for example, exposure to storm-force winds, rain, or hurricanes. These protocols serve as a temporary response to a heightened risk, and is in addition to the night shelter and hurricane shelter.”

Staying informed about the movements of an approaching hurricane is important for all of us. Ms Carey reminds us that people living outside are still very much members of our community.

“People living outside communicate with other people in our community,” she said. “For example, people sitting at the bus terminal hear the discussions of people walking by, they read the newspaper, chat with waiting passengers and bus drivers, access wi-fi, and some have WhatsApp.

“Standing outside grocery stores, they hear and see the change in activity as residents head to the grocery store to purchase hurricane supplies. They see plywood affixed to storefront windows, witness an immediate decrease in commuters, and alfresco dining ends abruptly as outdoor furniture is moved inside. Those who frequent Front Street and Albuoy’s Point notice how the water changes in the harbour, as ferries are cancelled, and cruise ships depart.

“People sleeping rough notice changes in humidity and cloud formations, and if they’ve been outside long enough, they notice how the trees dance to a rhythm that can only be associated with one thing. I might argue a rough sleeper notices the weather change before you do.”

If you stop to talk to someone who is living outside from time to time, you may learn that supporting these people is something we all need to do – especially during times when life and limb are at risk. Home suggests family members of people living outside should consider extending their support during these times.

“Persons living outside may have positive relationships with members of their family, and Home encourages parents, siblings, cousins, adult children, adult grandchildren, and close friends to use this time to reconnect, if only for a brief period,” Ms Carey said.

“When alerted to potential threatening weather, the family can agree on which relative or friend will conduct a wellness check with the person sleeping rough. Have a chat with them and try to plan ahead.”

When approaching relatives who may be living outside to discern whether they will be safe during a hurricane, Home recommends you ask a few questions, starting with: “Would you be comfortable sharing your plans to keep yourself safe during the hurricane? Where do you plan to sleep?”

If your relative plans on riding out the storm outside, ask them: “Is there shelter there? Will you be covered by a porch? Is there a door and window to keep you secure? How will you keep yourself safe? Will you be exposed to the elements? What will you do if you don’t feel safe there? How will you access meals? What happens if the weather worsens? What is your plan B? Have you considered going to stay at the emergency shelter?”

This seems like many questions, but it’s literally a matter of life and death. We want all Bermudians to survive every hurricane that comes our way, and asking these questions can be the difference between a loved one surviving unscathed or not.

Communication is vital when trying to ensure your family stays safe during a hurricane. Home further recommends having a post-storm communication plan; ask your at-risk family member: “How can I check on you during inclement weather and right after? Do you think you will be able to call me to let me know you are alright? Do you want me to call you?”

Always double check to confirm that you have all your family member’s phone numbers saved somewhere, and remind everyone to charge their phones so lines of communication can remain open.

If you actually want to invite a person who is sleeping rough to weather the storm in your home, Ms Carey suggests thinking carefully about it.

“This should only be considered when you have a close personal relationship, and you feel safe doing so,” Ms Carey said. “Before deciding to invite a close relative home for shelter during a hurricane, a family should meet to discuss the pros and cons of the invitation.

“The family should consider gender, physical limitations, mental health, diet, activities — do they smoke cigarettes, who else will be directly impacted by the stay, the history of your relationship, and which family member will offer their house for two nights during the hurricane.

“Keep the nights limited to two, and if things go well, you can always add one night at a time. Try not to overextend yourself the first time around. You are building bridges and want to keep the lines of communication open, and avoid conflict.”

Once the decision has been made, and all the questions have been comfortably answered, you can go ahead and arrange a pick-up time and location with your relative. Ms Carey provides the following guidelines to follow on pick-up day.

“Make sure you and one other family member or close friend are in the car when you go to pick-up.

“Do not bring anyone home who smells strongly of alcohol, or appears to be under the influence of mind-altering substances.

“Do not allow other people to enter your car.

“Do not offer rides to anyone other than your relative.”

Everyone’s safety is the ultimate goal. Do all you can to keep your family safe, but don’t put them at risk of anything more than the storm.

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