LGBT Organizations throughout the state are feeling the impact Hurricane Irma left behind.
The Key West Business Guild, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting Key West businesses to LGBTQA travelers, is unsure of what they will need once they return to the area.
Hurricane Irma swept through Key West on Sunday evening leaving 15 million without power and destroying homes, restaurants, and businesses in its path. According to the New York Post, it is estimated that nearly 25% of homes have been destroyed.
“At this time, the focus is to get folks back home so we can start the rebuilding process,” said Executive Director Matt Hon on Wednesday morning. “Unfortunately, the communications on the island is little to none right now. And most of the staff is scattered across the country anxiously waiting on the re-entry.”
Power outage and being displaced is an added pressure. We are really focusing our staff and those we serve. 150 staff members at all locations. 12-15,000 clients. Direct services (HIV medical or primary care). Doesn’t account for senior or youth programs.
In the Tampa and St. Petersburg Region, although not as greatly impacted by Irma’s visit, LGBT leaders are putting employees and those they serve first.
METRO Wellness and Community Centers, which provides quality health and wellness services to area residents, was back up and running as of Tuesday.
James Keane, METRO’s Director of LGBT Programs and Events, said, “There are others stepping up to be drop off locations for supplies. We really need to be sure that our staff is fully capable to help our patients and clients following the mental, physical, and emotional toll of Irma.”
Keane acknowledged that on any given day, LGBTQ community members are at an elevated risk for illness, homelessness, financial despair, and substance abuse over heterosexual, cisgender people. And in times like these, those risks are amplified. “We need to focus on our clients, outreach, and staff first.”
METRO has opened up their community centers to the public and invited residents to enjoy AC and charge their devices. They are also offering bottled water to visitors.
Since several schools are still not open and may not open until later next week, employees with children encouraged to bring their children to the office. “This way everyone is comfortable,” said Keane.
When asked about support or fundraising initiatives planned to help fellow community centers in more severely impacted regions of the state, Keane told OUTCOAST, “As we learn more about the devastation in the keys, we will be open to opening additional calendar items to help. As this point, we that it’s a little premature since we don’t yet know what is needed.”
One of METRO’s biggest fundraising events of the year is SMART Ride, a bike ride that benefits organizations providing HIV services to area residents, like Metro Wellness. The two-day bike ride starts at the University of Miami on November 17th and ends at Key West High School on November 18th.
“We rely a lot on our relationship SMART Ride,” said Keane. “We don’t the know the status of this ride yet and are working with six of the other agencies on how can we help each other following the storm.”
His advice to the community. “Don’t be reactionary. Be thoughtful.” Without knowing what will be needed, and how supplies will be transported down south, he advises community members to gather information and listen to news updates before hosting supply drives.
To learn more about METRO Wellness, make a donation, or volunteer your services, click here.