MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A heartbreaking homecoming for residents of two Miami apartment buildings.
The residents of the Civic Tower apartments, at 1855 NW 15th Avenue, were evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma. When they tried to return to their homes after the storm, they were told they couldn’t go inside because the buildings had been condemned.
Federal HUD and the county funded the privately owned buildings. They said after the storm an inspection by the fire department found that there was no electricity, limited generator power, no functioning fire alarm, no water and structural damage – therefore not a safe structure, especially for elderly residents.
“As of now, until all corrective work is done and reinspected, the building cannot be re-inhabited,” said Maurice Pons, with the city’s building department.
Nearly 80 residents from the buildings have been displaced.
Lying on her cot, 80-year-old Lidia Arce says she feels homeless.
Many like her have set up camp in the parking lot or in their cars because they say they have no where else to go.
“I think it is a messy situation. I think these people have to pay for a messy situation,” said Giralda Perez, who was forced to evacuate.
Residents said they’ve not been allowed back inside their apartments to retrieve clothes, belongings or medicine.
“We need a house where we can live right now,” said Darianne Diago. “It’s a mess out here with all these elderly people that need a place to live. They don’t have their medicine.”
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said the city and county are bringing in food, ice and portable toilets but says he sees no solutions right now.
“FEMA has given them vouchers but they have no hotels to go because of the procurement process,” he said.
While building management is not commenting, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson looks for answers.
“The management says this is A FEMA issue. I don’t know what FEMA is saying about that,” Edmonson said. “I have not seen any sensitivity from apartment management to the tenants.”
Their plight prompted a protest, with residents chanting “housing rights for everyone.”
“My concern is my dad’s valuable stuff and where is he going to go afterwards,” said Jecelis Sainz. “He has health problems and high blood pressure and nowhere to stay.”
The county said they worked with the Florida Division of Emergency Management to transport the residents to a shelter but only a few accepted.
Some residents said they tried to get hotel rooms but haven’t been able to find any.
“Help us man, get us out of here,” said Carlos Cruz, who had set up camp under a tent. “This is unnatural, for not only me but for all the people, it’s not right. It’s just not right.”
Edmonson said she would look into whether shelters are available to help these residents.
In the meantime, the “campers” are settling in for what could be a long fight.
“We give them haircuts, we give them hygiene products, we give them all the food they need,” said Pastor Omar Figueres with Help is All We Need. “This is why there is a peace in the camp.”
The city has sent in their homeless outreach staff to provide assistance including registering residents with FEMA so they can qualify for assistance, while the Miami Police Department will provide security here around the clock.
Some residents are hearing it could be months before they are able to return to their apartments.
And despite the problems, residents said they still had to pay their rent in full four days ago.