Future uncertain for remaining Dorian shelter residents

With only months before the last shelter on New Providence is set to close, some Hurricane Dorian evacuees are worried for their futures.

The old Bahamas Academy gymnasium is the only government shelter still open on New Providence.

The Guardian went there to interview evacuees who still have nowhere else to go, but the shelter coordinator promptly advised that media was not allowed on the property despite having conducted interviews with evacuees there before.

However, from the doorway of the gym, mattresses could be seen lining the floors of the non-air conditioned room where adults sat near their belongings and groups of young children played.

Outside, one woman could be seen lying on a mattress in the shadow of the building.

Dorian, the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the region, tore through Abaco and Grand Bahama nearly six months ago, leaving ruin in its wake.

At least 70 people died in the storm and thousands were left homeless and displaced.

In the weeks following the storm, over 2,000 evacuees were residing in shelters across New Providence.

However, Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell said last week that just under 200 people are living in the gym.

Another 67 are staying at the Poinciana Inn, he said.

Haitians and people of Haitian descent who were living and working on Abaco appear to comprise the majority of people still residing in the shelters. While many say they hope to return to the island, the shantytowns they resided in prior to Dorian were some of the hardest-hit areas.

The informal communities, which were packed with improperly constructed buildings and other code violations, suffered extensive flood and wind damage.

The government demolished what remained of the largest shantytowns in a bid to clean up the areas.

Campbell said his ministry hopes to have all the shelters housing evacuees from Grand Bahama and Abaco closed by the start of hurricane season in June.

However, Fernand Wooly, 44, who lived in The Mudd shantytown on Abaco before Dorian, said he has no idea what he’ll do when that happens.

Wooly has been in the Bahamas Academy gymnasium since the days immediately following the storm.

“They said they would send me to Abaco, but they haven’t sent me yet,” he said with the help of a young girl named Raikeisha Petit-De who translated for him.

Wooly said some of his family members have already returned to the northern island, but he does not know where on the island they are living now.

He said he is worried that when the shelter closes in June he’ll have to be kicked out.

Justin Dabelus, 61, another of the shelter residents, said he is especially concerned for Haitians living in the shelters who no longer have work permits.

“They really don’t know what’s going to happen to them,” he said.

“For those who don’t have work permits, it’s a problem because we don’t even know what they’re going to do with them.”

He said that while he is grateful for the shelter, the conditions have not been the best.

“For five months I’ve been there; and I have to stay, but the conditions aren’t really that good. But we’re still living there because I take it as it comes and I have nowhere else to go,” he said.

“Some people who have people [to stay with], they’ve gone, but those who have no people, they’re still here.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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