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Florida Officials Want Tent City Reopened For ‘New Homeless’

November 25, 1992

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) _ Officials are urging the federal government to reopen a military-style tent city for ″new homeless″ in Hurricane Andrew’s aftermath.

The officials say out-of-state laborers seeking work in the storm’s ruins are swelling roadside encampments already crowded with migrants and tenants evicted from damaged homes. Volunteer workers reported up to 2,000 people living in the makeshift camps.

″These are human beings and we have to take care of them,″ said Andy Menendez, director of homeless programs for Dade County. This week he asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reopen a tent city.

″It’s either have a tent city or have hundreds of people camping along the road with nowhere to wash or use the bathroom - that’s inhumane,″ Menendez said.

The camps dot dusty lots along busy U.S. Highway 1, the backyards of damaged homes and the edge of migrant labor camps.

Some people sleep in their cars. Others have been living in lean-tos made of discarded plywood and garbage bags. When police run them off, they take root elsewhere.

″We don’t want to live here, we have to,″ said Jim Teasley, a 44-year-old carpenter from Mobile, Ala., who pitched a tiny tent near a canal where he bathes. ’There’s no affordable housing within 50 miles of here.″

Four Marine-operated tent cities closed down Oct. 23 after homes were found for thousands left homeless by the storm that struck Aug. 24, leveling much of Dade County in South Florida.

FEMA officials, who plan to meet with Menendez on Monday, are reluctant to reopen a tent city because this class of homeless do not fall neatly into the category of storm victims.

″This is a social problem,″ said FEMA spokesman Len DeCarlo. ″Our only responsibility is for those directly displaced because of a disaster.″

The federal agency has offered tents and equipment to the state so the county can maintain a camp. But Menendez said FEMA must take on some of the responsibility.

Loma Hash, 35, of Tulsa, Okla., came here three months ago and found construction work, but he said life has been ″pure hell.″

″I work 40 to 60 hours a week. I bring home up to $400 a week,″ said Hash. ″I can’t even go to a hotel around here for a shower because they won’t take construction workers. Apartments would cost more than I make and even campgrounds are asking $200 a week.″

For migrant workers, crops are ready to be picked, but there is no place to live since the poorly built seasonal housing was nearly wiped out by the storm.

More than 450 people, about 60 families, have jammed a tent city behind Centro Campesino, a farmworker advocacy group in nearby Florida City, said Susan Reyna, who works at Centro.

Others were evicted by landlords, either during repair work or because they could no longer afford higher rent after repairs, Menendez said.

″We have to do better for these people and FEMA has to help,″ Menendez said.

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