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Bay County creating long-term plan to shelter displaced residents


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The goal is to relocate the nearly 800 people from the three county schools currently used as shelters to a space capable of holding them by Nov. 1.

PANAMA CITY — Bay County officials plan to move residents displaced by Hurricane Michael from temporary shelters to more long-term housing by Nov. 1.

Bob Majka, county manager, said the goal is to relocate the nearly 800 people from the three schools currently used as shelters to a space capable of holding them. While Majka wasn’t ready to disclose the location on Friday, he said the site would provide a variety of services.

“It will be a facility and adequate to serve the need,” Majka said. “We have been, for several days, putting a plan together to relocate those people out of the schools.”

Majka said Bay District Schools set the Nov. 1 deadline for the relocation, since it plans to resume classes next month. Currently, Breakfast Point Academy, Surfside Middle School and the Deane Bozeman School are the three temporary shelters in the county. As of Friday, the three shelters combined held around 788 people.

Majka added that once the site is running, it will be available to more than just those currently living in the shelters.

“Anybody who needs those services will be accepted,” he said.

Majka said the site would offer much more than shelter and security.

“There will be laundry, showers and feeding,” Majka said. “We are putting a transportation plan together so people can get their children to school or for people who don’t have transportation and need to get out to take care of their properties.”

The site will also provide medical care, child daycare and internet services. And the site will have a post office, Majka said.

“We will even have the ability to care for pets there,” he said.

Majka said the plan is to partner with all the municipalities in the county to help cover the cost of the housing services. The county expects to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency later for reimbursement, Majka said.

“But we’re doing things right now based on the need,” he said. “We’ll go to FEMA after the fact, but this is something that needs to be done from a human perspective.”

Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki said the city plans to partner with county, state and federal officials to address the housing issue.

“We’re now gathering facts and numbers so we know how much we have to deliver,” Brudnicki said.

With so many homes and rental properties destroyed in the city, another option might be to ask FEMA for temporary trailers, Brudnicki said.

“We’ve still got to gather information on how much housing is needed,” he said.

Tom Kempton, spokesman for FEMA, said on Thursday that the county and state hadn’t yet requested temporary trailers for the area. However, FEMA recently made county residents eligible for its transitional sheltering assistance program, which pays hotel and motel room costs for residents who need a place to stay while they’re fixing their homes or looking for a new permanent residence.

Kempton said the problem Panama City faces is there are very few hotel rooms available, given that most are being used and many others were damaged in the hurricane. Kempton said various agencies are working together to find alternatives so people don’t have to relocate.

Caila Strickland needs a place to live, but doubts she’ll find one in the county.

For nearly two weeks, the Callaway woman has lived with hundreds of others in the Deane Bozeman School with her 2-year-old daughter and ex-husband, Corey Eaton. Strickland said on Friday that she hadn’t heard anything about what the plans were for people living in the shelters.

“I’ve decided to relocate completely out of Panama City,” Strickland said as she sat on her cot in the school’s gym. “We’re thinking about going more down south ... there’s not many jobs here now, either.”

Eaton said he hoped to find a new job to save up enough money so the family could move.

“I worked at the Panama City Mall, but it’s not going to open again for another six months,” Eaton said. “A friend and I are trying to find work.”

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