Public Defender's office helps people in Belle Glade apply for FEMA assistance

People continue to struggle in Belle Glade from damage and power outages caused by Hurricane Irma, so the west county office of the Palm Beach County Public Defender's office decided to help people apply for FEMA individual assistance Friday.

“I was just thinking of what can we do, what can we offer," said Carey Haughwout, public defender.

Office staff and lawyers volunteered to guide people through the FEMA application process.

“Folks have been very grateful they’ve had some assistance with this process that can be confusing," Haughwout said.

200 people took advantage of the help Friday. 

“We recognized that would be a real challenge for folks who don’t have electricity and may not have computers and internet service," Haughwout said.

The office had printed out flyers, but people mostly stopped by after hearing about it from friends or family.

“Before we were scheduled to start at 9, we had 25 people waiting," Haughwout said.

Haughwout also made sure to provide food and water for people while they were waiting.

Ruth Gayle, who lives in Belle Glade, said she was thankful for the help. She still doesn't have power.

“It’s real hot and dark too," she said.

Gayle said her neighborhood flooded and a tree fell on a cable line above her roof.

"The water stayed there for three days," she said. "It was up to my knees. I had to put on my boots to get to my vehicle.”

The public defender's office staff also helped Angel Alfaro's family submit their application for individual assistance from FEMA Friday. Their neighborhood flooded. They have cracks in the ceiling and leaks inside of their house.

“I like the fact that other people especially around here, the Glades, are helping other people," Alfaro said.

The office is considering guiding people through their FEMA applications again next week.

“Obviously it was a service that was needed to help folks get through this," Haughwout said.

Haughwout's staff members are also helping out inmates from the Monroe County Jail who were sent to Palm Beach County for the storm by getting them in contact with their families, finding out about the conditions of their homes and also working to get their legal proceedings moving again.

People needing help registering for disaster assistance from both FEMA and SNAP were able to meet with representatives Friday to complete the paperwork at Gove Elemenatry School and Pahokee Middle School. Commissioner Melissa McKinlay coordinated and staffed the events along with Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Kevin Rader, Representative Joe Abruzzo and Representative Matt Willhite. Volunteers from the county helped at the events as well.

366 people attend the event at Gove Elementary in Belle Glade Friday and more than 200 people attended the one at Pahokee Middle School. More than 100 people were assisted with applications Thursday.

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