Until a formal non-profit designation is in place, the Gulf County Citizens Long-Term Recovery Committee remains in neutral.
However, to use an automotive analogy, the gear may be neutral but the engine is revving.
The committee board met last week at the Washington Improvement Group building to discuss progress to date.
The committee’s intent is to hold one board meeting per month at the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County and hold a second meeting in locations throughout the county.
“In a perfect world this committee would have been up and running when Hurricane Michael hit so we wouldn’t be having to build this while trying to serve the needs of the community,” said Vicki Abrams, serving as interim-chair of the Recovery Committee.
The milestone ahead is certified 501 (C) 3 non-profit status, which clears the path for a host of partnerships, economic, in-kind and in other forms.
The paperwork has been filed for nearly a month with state and federal authorities; it is now a waiting process.
Meanwhile, subcommittees move forward, particularly on the housing side.
Chaired by Dr. Pat Hardman, the subcommittee is exploring a host of options to present those in need of housing, the options ranging from mobile to stick-built homes.
Once non-profit status is in place, Hardman is hopeful that a lease with the Port St. Joe Port Authority for a portion the old Arizona Chemical site will come to pass.
The Port Authority board has indicated its support and owns the site.
The Recovery Committee would use the leased acreage to place a warehouse facility intended to serve as a central depot for construction materials and other equipment.
“If anybody is going to come in and build homes, they will have to do it on a scale where we will need the warehouse,” Hardman said.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is also in talks with the Mennonite Church about a mass build, which the Mennonite’s have performed in other locations following natural disasters.
Again, the discussion is slowed by the lack of non-profit status, but that project alone could translate into the construction of as many as 50 homes.
The subcommittee is also seeking to identify potential land that might be available, reaching out, for the time, to local churches and civic organizations.
To an extent, that is the broad picture while much of the Recovery Committee’s work will be largely more targeted.
“It is about the individual needs,” Abrams said. “Infrastructure needs, that is the government’s role. The individual need is what we want to address.”
Those needs are obvious, but likely not yet fully quantified.
World Renew performed a community survey in April that covered 180-plus households, just 3 percent of the households that applied for assistance through FEMA.
The identified unmet needs of just those households, the majority of which included elderly, veterans and those with disabilities, was estimated in excess of $9 million.
Locally, UMCOR case managers are currently handling 44 clients, with another 36 on a waiting list.
Of those, the vast majority are elderly with an average, average emphasized, household income of $1,200 to $1,400 a month.
“We know we have not identified everybody of need,” Abrams said.
Addressing those needs provides another big-picture concern to bear: the need for case managers.
Those unmet needs much tougher to quantify also are in evidence.
In recent months, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, the county has experienced five suicides, three in Howard Creek alone.
There are concerns from church and school leaders about the mental health of young people; Stars of Hope is among the projects that have been brought to the community to address those concerns.
Stars painted by children participating in local summer programs are hanging throughout the community.
“It is really terrible,” said Recovery Committee member Celeste Putnam of the five suicides. “We are going to need to do something more.”
The Florida Department of Health in Gulf County announced this week that in partnership with Life Management and First Baptist Church of Wewahitchka an eight-hour free mental health training course will be offered at the church 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. CT Aug. 29.
The Gulf County Citizens Long-Term Recovery Committee is a group of volunteers and encourages all public participation.
“We are on a journey,” Abrams said. “This is long-term.”