03:41 - Source: CNN
Hurricane Ian survivors living in tents, cars, and wrecked homes as they wait for FEMA assistance
Fort Myers, Florida CNN  — 

In the shadow of Lee McCall’s crumbled home sits an old RV and two tents that are now housing her family.

The house, located in St. James City, is still rotting after Hurricane Ian pounded Southwest Florida in September, flooding thousands of homes, including theirs. The small community outside Fort Myers is still marred by storm wreckage on most streets.

McCall, 86, is staying in the RV with her husband. Her two daughters are living in one tent and two grandkids in the other.

“At my age, what am I going to do?” McCall said.

She says they’re still waiting for their insurance payout and don’t have the money to rebuild. But they spent a month living in their cars, so this setup, she says, feels like heaven.

“Thank God for what you get. And I do everyday,” she said.

More than four months after Hurricane Ian, many homeowners in the Fort Myers area are still homeless, some living in difficult or even dangerous conditions.

Living in moldy houses, sleeping in chairs

Nicole Williams moved back into her damaged home in Bokeelia last month even though contractors have told her it’s beyond repair. Her rental assistance ran out, she says, and she had nowhere else to go.

“The mold situation in there is terrible. I can barely breathe,” she said. “I don’t have a choice… It’s here or on the street.”

Bobby Mann and his wife are in the early stages of rebuilding their house in Flamingo Bay. After staying with friends for weeks, he and his wife have started sleeping in the back of their car or in two small chairs inside their hollowed home.

“It breaks you, physically, emotionally,” Mann said. “You’re drained.”

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A broken section of road and destroyed houses are seen in Matlacha, Florida, on Saturday, October 1.
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President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden talk to people impacted by Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida, during a tour of the area on Wednesday, October 5.
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Greg Guidi, left, and Thomas Bostic unload supplies from a boat on Pine Island, Florida, on Tuesday, October 4. With the roads onto the island made impassable, people were getting supplies to the island by boat.
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Members of a search-and-rescue team comb through the wreckage on Fort Myers Beach on Tuesday.
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Stephanie Fopiano, right, gets a hug from Kenya Taylor, both from North Port, as she gets emotional about her situation at the Venice High School hurricane shelter in Venice, Florida, on Monday, October 3.
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Workers and residents clear debris from a destroyed bar in Fort Myers on Saturday, October 1.
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Beachgoers look at a large shrimping boat that was swept ashore in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday.
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Local muralist Candy Miller, left, embraces Ana Kapel, the manager of the Pier Peddler, a gift shop that sold women's fashions, as she becomes emotional at the site where the store once stood on Fort Myers Beach on Friday.
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Waters from a rain-swollen pond cover grass and a foot path around Quarterman Park in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday.
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Members of the US Army National Guard help people evacuate from flood waters in North Port, Florida, on Friday, September 30.
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Water streams past buildings on the oceanfront on Sanibel Island, Florida, on Friday.
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University of Central Florida students use an inflatable mattress as they evacuate an apartment complex in Orlando, Florida, on Friday, September 30.
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A firefighter examines a fallen tree in Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday.
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A man tows a canoe through a flooded street of his neighborhood in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, on Friday.
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People wait in line to enter a Home Depot store in Cape Coral, Florida, on Friday. Many in Florida were still without power.
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The wreckage of a car teeters on a buckled roadway on Friday in Matlacha, Florida.
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Members of the Texas A&M Task Force 1 Search and Rescue team look for anyone needing help on Friday in Fort Myers, Florida.
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A man takes photos Thursday, September 29, of boats that were damaged by Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida.
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Bob Levitt returns to his condemned home to retrieve his cat, which he found hiding in a bedroom Thursday in Palm Beach County, Florida. A tornado spawned by the hurricane left residents homeless.
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This aerial photo shows damaged homes and debris in Fort Myers Beach on Thursday.
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Jake Moses and Heather Jones explore a section of destroyed businesses in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, on Thursday.
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Workers in Naples, Florida, clean up debris on Thursday.
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A section of the Sanibel Causeway is seen on Thursday after it collapsed due to the effects of the storm.
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Stedi Scuderi looks over her flooded apartment in Fort Myers on Thursday.
From Orange County Government
A resident of Orange County, Florida, and a couple of dogs are rescued from floodwaters on Thursday.
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A boat lies partially submerged in Punta Gorda, Florida, on Thursday.
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Tom Park begins cleaning up in Punta Gorda on Thursday.
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Residents of Port Charlotte, Florida, line up for free food that was being distributed from a taco truck on Thursday.
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A causeway to Florida's Sanibel Island is seen on Thursday. The causeway is the only way to get to or from Sanibel and Captiva Islands to Florida's mainland.
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People clear a large tree off their home in Fort Myers on Thursday.
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Homes are flooded in Port Charlotte on Thursday.
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Jonathan Strong dives into floodwaters while he and his girlfriend, Kylie Dodd, knock on doors to help people in a flooded mobile home community in Iona, Florida, on Thursday. "I can't just sit around while my house is intact and let other people suffer," he said. "It's what we do: community helping community."
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Brenda Brennan sits next to a boat that pushed up against her apartment building in Fort Myers on Thursday. She said the boat floated in around 7 p.m. Wednesday.
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People walk along the beach looking at property damaged in Bonita Springs, Florida, on Thursday.
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An Orlando resident is rescued from floodwaters on Thursday.
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Vehicles make their way through flooded streets in Fort Myers on Thursday.
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Stefanie Karas stands in her flooded apartment in Fort Myers on Thursday. She is an artist and was salvaging what she could from her home.
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Heavily damaged homes are seen on Sanibel Island on Thursday.
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A spiral staircase lies next to a damaged pickup truck in Sanibel, Florida, on Thursday.
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A flooded street is seen in downtown Fort Myers after Ian made landfall on Wednesday, September 28.
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A woman surveys damage through a door during a power outage in Fort Myers on Wednesday.
A satellite image shows the hurricane making landfall on the southwest coast of Florida on Wednesday.
Naples Police
The streets of Naples, Florida, are flooded on Wednesday. City officials asked residents to shelter in place until further notice.
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A woman is helped out of a muddy area Wednesday in Tampa, Florida, where water was receding due to a negative storm surge.
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Strong winds hit Punta Gorda on Wednesday.
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A woman holds an umbrella inverted by the wind in Tampa on Wednesday.
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Sailboats anchored in Roberts Bay are blown around in Venice, Florida, on Wednesday.
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Melvin Phillips stands in the flooded basement of his mobile home in Stuart, Florida, on Wednesday.
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A man walks where water was receding from Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
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Damage is seen at the Kings Point condos in Delray Beach, Florida, on Wednesday. Officials believe it was caused by a tornado fueled by Hurricane Ian.
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A TV crew broadcasts from the beach in Fort Myers on Wednesday.
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Utility trucks are staged in a rural lot Wednesday in The Villages, a Florida retirement community.
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Highways in Tampa are empty Wednesday ahead of Hurricane Ian making landfall. Several coastal counties in western Florida were under mandatory evacuations.
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An airplane is overturned in Pembroke Pines, Florida, on Wednesday.
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Zuram Rodriguez surveys the damage around her home in Davie, Florida, early on Wednesday.
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People play dominoes by flashlight during a blackout in Havana, Cuba, on Wednesday. Crews in Cuba have been working to restore power for millions after the storm battered the western region with high winds and dangerous storm surge, causing an islandwide blackout.
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People walk through a flooded street in Batabano, Cuba, on Tuesday.
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Southwest Airlines passengers check in near a sign that shows canceled flights at the Tampa International Airport on Tuesday.
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Maria Llonch retrieves belongings from her home in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, on Tuesday.
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Traffic builds along Interstate 4 in Tampa on Tuesday.
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A man carries his children through rain and debris in Pinar del Rio on Tuesday.
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People drive through debris in Pinar del Rio on Tuesday.
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Frederic and Mary Herodet board up their Gulf Bistro restaurant in St. Pete Beach, Florida, on Tuesday.
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NASA's Artemis I rocket rolls back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Tuesday. The launch of the rocket was postponed due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Ian.
Hurricane Ian is seen from the International Space Station on Monday, September 26.
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Waves kick up along the shore of Batabano as Hurricane Ian reaches Cuba on Monday.
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A Cuban family transports personal belongings to a safe place in the Fanguito neighborhood of Havana on Monday.
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A family carries a dog to a safe place in Batabano on Monday.
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People wait in lines to fuel their vehicles at a Costco store in Orlando on Monday.
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Ryan Copenhaver, manager of Siesta T's in Sarasota, Florida, installs hurricane panels over the store's windows on Monday.
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A man helps pull small boats out of Cuba's Havana Bay on Monday.
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Shelves are empty in a supermarket's water aisle in Kissimmee on Monday.
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Cathie Perkins, emergency management director in Pinellas County, Florida, references a map Monday that indicates where storm surges would impact the county. During a news conference, she urged anyone living in those areas to evacuate.
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Sarah Peterson fills sandbags in Fort Myers Beach on September 24.

Sonny Reeves, a 73-year-old retired Marine, took out a loan with his wife to buy an RV. He’s one of many residents in the area staying in similar vehicles on or near their property. But Reeves can barely fit his walker inside the camper. It’s been a struggle for the couple.

“We’ve been together 50 years, and this has been the most stressful thing we’ve had to go through,” he said.

Reeves is especially frustrated by the spray paint marks on his driveway. They indicate he’s been approved by FEMA for a free temporary trailer to live in while he rebuilds his home. But he says he’s been waiting for it since October.

“They know we need a need, so can’t they answer it?” he said. “Maybe I’m not calling the right person.”

Sonny Reeves walks around his RV.

CNN spoke with many survivors, few of whom have insurance, who say they’ve been approved by FEMA for temporary housing units, but they have no idea when they’re coming.

Nearly 3,000 households have been approved for direct housing since Hurricane Ian, but as of last week, FEMA says only 225 have received it. It’s become a heated issue in parts of Lee County.

FEMA’s regulations slowing recovery efforts

Brian Hamman, an elected Republican and chairman of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, says FEMA assistance has been critical to the area’s recovery but claims the agency has dropped the ball on direct housing.

“Where’s the sense of urgency? Why is nobody helping these people?” Hamman said. “They were approved, many of them, and they didn’t see anything actually materialize out of that. So, we’re trying our best to fight for it.”

Hamman blames what he sees as red tape at the federal level.

It took until January for FEMA to bypass a policy that bars it from putting trailers in a flood zone, the agency says. Eventually the agency created a waiver for Hurricane Ian survivors because most of them live in one.

“FEMA created all these rules, and all these processes and all these things, the hoops that people have to jump through to get their assistance,” Hamman said. “When you’re in a disaster, you need help right away. You don’t need help three months from now.”

But FEMA defends their response. The agency has provided more than $970 million dollars in individual aid, including assistance with rent and repairs for tens of thousands of households.

Since Hurricane Ian, more than 379,000 households have received some form of financial assistance from FEMA, including rental funds for more than 49,000 households, according to the agency.

“This is that final step in recovery,” Keith Denning, a FEMA Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer helping to lead the recovery, said of their direct housing rollout.

Insured losses from disasters will exceed $100 billion for second year in a row, led by Hurricane Ian, new data shows

The agency admits that the process to craft that flood zone waiver delayed the rollout of many housing units, but tells CNN that since that January change more units are going out every day. They also note that placing the trailers is a complex process that can sometimes be halted for reasons beyond their control, like issues with utilities.

A lack of affordable housing has fueled higher demand. The average rent cost in the Fort Myers area is up more than 50% in two years, from $1308 per month to $2086, according to data from Zillow. And far fewer units are available because of storm damage.

“We’re working faster. We’re ramping up the direct housing operation,” Denning said. “We didn’t have any issues with red tape. It was our own regulations that we needed to interpret and work with local officials to be able to place trailers.”

But even some of the recipients of those units are still struggling to get settled.

They have a trailer, but can’t use it yet

FEMA delivered a mobile unit to RoseAnn Cutler and Paula Colose, two widowed sisters in their 70s, on January 4. But more than a month later, the two are still locked out of it because the water isn’t hooked up. And until the unit passes inspection, they’re not allowed inside, per FEMA policy.

“We’re so frustrated. We’ve got everything ready to go,” Colose said.

RoseAnn Cutler and Paula Colose.

They’re still living in their damaged home, running an extension cord from their neighbor’s house to power appliances and hauling water with a wheelbarrow to boil for showers. They don’t know when they’ll be able to access the trailer.

“It can, in our process, take several weeks once the trailer is placed for all those things to happen,” FEMA’s Denning said, adding that such a long delay is rare.

FEMA trailers waiting to be distributed.

FEMA expects the housing rollout to continue picking up steam in the weeks ahead, delivering trailers and mobile homes to private properties and constructing some group sites. The agency says it should finish most of that work by mid-March.

But some residents are skeptical.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Bobby Mann said, looking at the spray paint marks in his driveway. “Because it’s hard to believe anything at this point.”

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