As Hurricane Matthew approached South Florida, the threat of a Category 4 storm sent thousands of people in Broward County to local shelters for safety. But after spending more than 48 hours in Arthur Ashe Middle School in Fort Lauderdale, some visitors say it's a blessing Matthew only grazed our shore. They contend the county hurricane shelter was frighteningly unprepared.
"If the hurricane came ashore, we would've been out of food. The place would've been a mess," says Tom Byrd, who stayed at the shelter because he is homeless. "It was unacceptable."
A phone message and email sent to Broward County seeking comment were not returned this morning. We will add the response when the call is returned. Otherwise, there has been little public complaint about the shelter.
Byrd and two other homeless people joined hundreds who barricaded themselves at Arthur Ashe Middle School last week. They say the hurricane shelter was unbearably cold and there was insufficient food and supplies. Specifically, they say they were forced to sleep on the floor without mats or blankets and were served undersize meals intended for seventh graders, not adults. After the bathrooms were shuttered for hygiene purposes because someone defecated outside of the toilet, people had to go outside in the midst of the storm to relieve themselves.
"I was totally disgusted," Byrd says. "I wish I had just stayed outside."
Byrd arrived at 9 a.m. Wednesday. He and many other homeless people were unable to sleep because it was too cold inside, he says. Because the shelter didn't have enough blankets, Byrd says a friend shared his covers. "A lot of people didn't sleep because it was freezing cold, and they just got up and left in the middle of the storm," he says. "A lot of us walked outside [during the storm] to stay warm."
He says there also wasn't enough food and that the portions didn't keep people full. For one meal, he says people were given just a small amount of tuna fish in a can; for another, a small personal pizza and a tiny muffin for breakfast. "The meals were small. We were eating kid's lunches," Byrd says. "We were using the food from the school system, so if the hurricane really hit we would've been out of food."
The homeless man who runs the Homeless Lives Matter Fort Lauderdale page and requests anonymity says it was miserable. "It was a horrid experience," he says. "No mats, no blankets. I slept on the floor for two whole days."
Kevin Rice, a homeless man who also went to the shelter for safety, says everyone was uncomfortable. "The bathroom closed in one building, which meant you had to go outside in the elements, get wet, and come and sit inside where it was freezing," Rice says. "It was a very horrible experience."
Mike Souza, a homeless man who mostly resides near Stranahan Park, has been to the hurricane shelters in the past. He has always had a bad experience. When Hurricane Matthew was slated to hit, he bunkered down with a few friends in the parking garage beside Broward College to weather the storm. "I don't like shelters and sleeping four inches apart," Souza says. "The parking garage felt good. It wasn't uncomfortable."
Tom Byrd and Kevin Rice say for the next hurricane they might skip the shelter and weather the storm there too.