Eight weeks after Hurricane Irma’s winds and flooding pounded the First Coast, causing thousands to flee their homes and seek temporary shelter, some people still haven’t gone home.


At least 690 people and their families in the six-county region around Jacksonville are staying at area hotels, their stays funded by FEMA disaster assistance. That includes 422 families in Duval County, 93 in St. Johns, 63 in Clay and 92 total in Baker, Nassau and Putnam counties, FEMA officials said Friday.

Many of the people are temporarily homeless. They’re awaiting repairs on damaged homes or they’re expecting to move into new living arrangements.

FEMA has been helping with that.

So far federal disaster relief offices have handed out more than $39.4 million in rental assistance or for home repairs to residents in the First Coast, including $23.7 million in Duval County. More than 1,100 households and individuals in Duval had FEMA pay for hotel stays and more than 14,000 households received rental help.

Yet some people don’t know where they’ll go once FEMA’s assistance runs out.

Kevin Reddoch, a 43-year-old landscape worker from Jacksonville’s West Side, is one of them.

Ever since Irma’s winds sent a large tree through the mobile home he was renting with a roommate and her grandson, he has slept in his truck for more than a week, once in his car, and this week he was sharing a Neptune Beach hotel room which his roommate secured with FEMA’s help.

He doesn’t know how long that will last, though, because his roommate expects a job switch out of state soon. Reddoch fears if that happens, he’ll be living in his car again.

“I’m not going to lie; I’m scared,” said the six-foot-two single man. “I’m reaching out to everyone I can think of.”

He feels like he’s been on a “psychological roller coaster” because he has gotten contradictory responses from his FEMA applications over the past eight weeks, he said.

The night of the storm, Reddoch said, he missed being injured in his home because he was helping a friend’s family who were stranded on the road when their vehicle broke down. He got that family home to Mandarin but couldn’t return to his mobile home because the bridges were closed due to high winds.

He spent the night at his friend’s home and returned to his mobile home park after the storm to find it covered with downed trees and dangling power lines. He and his roommate found that limbs pierced their ceiling and walls and allowed water to pour in over most of her furniture and his clothes. A FEMA employee inspected the trailer a few days later and called it a total loss.

His roommate, Andrea Kinard, who works at a doctor’s office, said FEMA has helped her and her grandson. They received approval for an immediate hotel room and some financial assistance to find a new place or replace some of their lost furniture and clothes.

But she fears what will happen to her roommate who is her friend when she leaves town possibly this month.

“They’ve let everything fall through the cracks,” she said of FEMA’s response. “We lost our home. We already don’t have much income, so it’s kind of scary. They’re supposed to be there but they’re dragging their feet.”

Reddoch said he has made many calls to FEMA over the eight weeks, sent them videos of his damaged home, and he received contradictory results.

Sometimes FEMA workers told him he is eligible for hotel assistance and for property damage assistance, but he needs to be patient, he said, perhaps wait 45 to 90 days. Other times, he said, they told him he doesn’t qualify for rental assistance because that was issued to his roommate.

With only a small pile of clothes to his name, a car and a broken down truck, Reddoch said he is reaching the end of his patience.

“I don’t want to sound like someone on a soapbox, but mentally I’m pulling my hair out of my head,” he said. “I don’t want to come across as someone screaming for food stamps. I don’t want to humiliate myself.”

FEMA officials say Reddoch’s case is complicated but isn’t typical. It does highlight one wrinkle in FEMA’s assistance for people who are roommates.

FEMA’s rental assistance is awarded per household, not per individual, said Marcus Harmon, an individual assistance specialist for FEMA. Roommates can file for assistance to help them secure a new rental home together or they can split it among themselves.

“If they could split the rental assistance or find a place together, that would work,” he said.

Also FEMA pays for home repairs, but that would be a landlord’s responsibility in rental situations, Harmon said, adding that FEMA can refer renters to disaster legal aid.

But Reddoch said he was told that here’s little he can legally do to force the landlord of his mobile home to repair it because of loopholes in such laws.

Reddoch could still be eligible for other FEMA help, Marcus said; the agency is considering his last appeal letter.

“FEMA is going to keep looking at it to handle it the best way they can,” said Gerard Hammink, a FEMA spokesman. “We know there are people who are out of their homes and there is a backlog and wait times for inspectors.”

Meanwhile, people staying at area hotels on FEMA’s dime have more time

FEMA moved back its checkout date for hotel stays from Nov. 5 to Dec. 3.

Also the deadline for other types of FEMA assistance moved; now it expires Nov. 24.

“FEMA is working to try to help every last person, even if folks… feel forgotten,” Hammink said. “FEMA is here for the long haul.”

Reddoch says he is not putting all the blame on FEMA.

When he was working before the storm he could have saved more, in case of disaster, he said.

“Even before Hurricane Irma I regret making some decisions,” he said. “I should have had my (life) together so something like this wouldn’t have knocked me down…. I learned my lesson. I don’t ever want to feel this helpless, embarrassed, humiliated or confused again.”

Denise Smith Amos: 904-359-4083