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Families Choosing to Stay in Tents Over Shelters


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PANAMA CITY Fla. - What started as one good deed quickly expanded and created a mini tent city. Families and workers left homeless from hurricane Michael have resorted to pitching tents and living in them. 

The Forest Park United Methodist Church generously allowed some displaced workers to pitch some tents in their parking lot. Then, almost overnight, many displaced families joined. "We'd rather not be in tents but right now that's all we've got. There are no hotels," said Tam Nichols a mother of two currently living in a tent on the parking lot. 

Members of the church were shocked at how quickly more people pitched tents. "We did not expect this at all and it's been very surprising and we're still kind of wrapping our heads around it and what exactly we can do, what we should do, and how's the best way to serve them and kind of keep things going at the church at the same time," explained Samuel Reyes, the youth and young adult director.

Dozens of tents set up in the grassy areas of the parking lot, where people are living in wet, cold conditions. They feel  until affordable housing becomes available, this is their best option. The church will continue to provide this temporary living situation, but encourages them to go to a shelter. "There are bathrooms, there are food. It's a proper shelter, and we're not trying to interfere with that at all," said Reyes. 

Although, those living in the tents said they would rather be there than a shelter because they feel safer in the tent.

"Some people figure out who's the most vulnerable in shelters and things do happen, they do. We don't want to be a statistic of something happening in a shelter," explained Nichols.

The Forest Park United Methodist Church hopes to help everyone move to a permanent living situation by Dec. 10, 2018. 

"God has provided this for us and we're very thankful," said Nichols.

Donations for those living in tents can be sent to Catalyst Church, who will assess and distribute needed materials. 

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