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Helping Others Suffering From Housing Crisis: #9191 Carleton Cleveland at Work

It was September of 2017 and Mother Nature had once again unleashed one of the most destructive forces on the planet. This time, it was Hurricane Irma, and her sights were on southwest Florida. The one-time Category 5 hurricane made landfall in the Florida Keys and marched right through the center of the state with winds at 130 mph. Some of the most vulnerable people in the area were directly in the storm’s path. 

A record 6.5 million Floridians evacuated, making it the largest evacuation in the state’s history. But for some residents of Immokalee, home to many agricultural workers and their families, all they could do was evacuate to the local shelters, or ride out the storm in the old, dilapidated trailers that they called home.

Immokalee is a town where Latinxs and Haitians make up 72% of the local population, and it is not uncommon to hear Spanish and French Creole languages spoken wherever you go. In this area of Collier County, which already struggles with a poverty rate of 44%, families had no financial means to recover. If their home survived (and many didn’t), they had no choice but to continue to live in the damaged trailer.

If there was anything positive about the storm’s impact on the community, it was the urgent need for safe and affordable housing for these hardworking people. The significant destruction of housing stock left farmworkers and their families with even more expensive and yet sub-standard, unsafe, and overcrowded housing. If the house was not totally destroyed, it was still rented out, and for many farmworker families, there is no option but to pay up to 70% of their income to live in trailers with some having vermin, mold, and limited bathing or toilet facilities.

The solution to the housing crisis in Immokalee has required a network of resources and many partners: individuals, foundations, government, private businesses, churches, civic groups, and nonprofit agencies. The Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance (IFHA) was formed to address the housing problem head-on. Their goal is to strengthen the entire community through safe, healthy, affordable housing. 

#9191 Carleton “Cleve” Cleveland serves as the Development Director for IFHA. “The IFHA project is to build 128 safe, affordable rental units for farmworkers, their families, and other extremely low-income residents of Immokalee,” said Cleve. “We are a non-profit organization, we’ve purchased the land, and have recently broken ground on these rental units that will cover ten acres. The new homes will be in an area central to transportation, markets, churches, and businesses.”

Cleve continued, “To live the way these people are living is inhumane. Safe, affordable housing is not a luxury,” he said. “It is a basic human need and a critical way of protecting the residents of Immokalee from the spread of future virus pandemics and hurricanes.”

Cleve continues to live the true spirit of the Camp Dudley motto, “the Other Fellow First.” A fundraising campaign to finance the project is underway. If you would like more information or to make a donation to this worthy project, visit www.ImmokaleeFairHousing.org.

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