Chunks of wet cardboard lay scattered underneath two covered bus shelters in downtown Tampa on Wednesday afternoon, where a dozen homeless people gathered.
The group had ridden out Hurricane Idalia under the shelters near the corner of E Tyler and N Marion streets, some using the cardboard to unsuccessfully block the rain that poured down and into the exposed sides of the shelters from Tuesday night into Wednesday.
Now, they were trying to figure out how to dry soaked clothes and get some sleep after a rough night. Some in the group were barefoot, leaving wet shoes on the sidewalk. Others appeared to shiver in soggy clothes, while a few dozed.
Armando Jefferson, 25, said crowded indoor areas make him feel suffocated and uncomfortable, so he opted for the bus stop over a hurricane shelter or homeless shelter. Edwina Key, 56, said she was afraid of going to a shelter, but didn’t want to explain why. Others, like Robert Mayhew, 45, said they didn’t know shelter was being offered.
“We haven’t had anyone come by to check on us yet,” Key said. “We’re in a crisis.”
Hillsborough County told the Times that 1,403 people checked into emergency shelters during Idalia. Of those people, 236 identified as homeless.
Felicia Crosby-Rucker, director of Hillsborough’s Homeless and Community Services, said the county’s outreach team is consistently engaging the community about shelter opportunities, even on sunny days.
Leading up to the storm, a street team helped spread the word about the emergency shelters available during the hurricane. She said that it’s not always possible to reach everyone, and that they respect people who opt against going to a shelter.
“We just have to meet them where they are and make sure they have the tools that they need, including protective gear so they can be OK,” Crosby-Rucker said.
Steven Newell, 41, said he lost the insulin he needs for his diabetes in the storm and needed to find more soon.
“I’ve lost all my stuff and it’s getting bad,” Newell said.
Others who’d had their belongings drenched talked about wanting dry clothes, towels, blankets, bug spray, rain ponchos and food and water.
A Times reporter shared the requests with county officials and a local mutual aid group.
As some in the group talked about what they may do next, the rain started again.
The group darted back beneath the bus shelters.