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Indian River County woman left homeless due to rising rent, overwhelmed shelters

Tammy Jenkins evicted from her home June 30, hasn't found place since
Posted at 6:22 PM, Jul 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-11 19:41:12-04

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. — The housing crisis continues on the Treasure Coast, as many shelters in Indian River County seem to be overwhelmed with an influx of need, and are unable to take on any more applicants.

Just a day after WPTV reported small Florida towns, like Fort Pierce, are seeing greater increases in rent than large cities, WPTV talked to Tammy Jenkins, who has nowhere to go.

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With tears in her eyes, Jenkins sat anxiously in her Indian River County hospital room, wondering when she'll be discharged.

"I'm so ready," Jenkins said. "I'm so ready to be in my own space."

As she sits there in her hospital gown, takes a deep breath and wipes tears from her eyes, she knows she has no space to go back to. It's the reason she's in the hospital room in the first place.

Jenkins was evicted from her home on June 30. Like so many others, the rising cost of rent made it impossible for her and her boyfriend to keep up with on a single income, and because she's on oxygen 24/7 and has to sleep with a BiPAP machine, she needs electricity to survive.

"I wound up in the hospital, from not being able to breathe," Jenkins said.

Tammy Jenkins IRC July 11 2023.jpg
Tammy Jenkins in tears, hoping she can leave the hospital and be in a space of her own.

Yet, that is the least of her concerns. Jenkins said the stress of finding a new place to live is much worse, as places to rent were too expensive.

"We're trying to find something. Something, somewhere," she said. "They want $5,000, $6,000 just to move in. Just to move into an efficiency."

Even worse, she said, every shelter she's called has turned her away.

"They have waiting lists, or I don't have small children, or I don't have domestic violence, so they won't take me in," Jenkins said.

WPTV called about 11 different places in Indian River County that can help with housing assistance or provide shelters.

Of the more than half that called back, WPTV was told the same thing as Jenkins.

For some, the services were specific to families with small children or domestic violence victims. Or, in some cases, the shelters were only open to just men or just women, excluding Jenkins and her boyfriend.

Other organizations said they had too large of a waitlist, and others said they were so inundated with people seeking financial help with housing that they couldn't take any more applicants.

Kelvin Garcia IRC July 11 2023
Captain Kelvin Garcia of the Corps Officer for the Salvation Army of Indian River County.

"We don't have any more funds for that type of help, so right now, we are not helping any families with rent or mortgage," Capt. Kelvin Garcia, the Corps Officer for the Salvation Army of Indian River County, said.

Garcia said the Salvation Army still helps with food distribution, summer camps and utility assistance. He said he wants to help but simply can't. The nonprofit used to help about 15 families with housing assistance per month, but ever since May, that number has jumped up to 40 to 50 families. Now, the organization is spending $17,000 per month on rental assistance and doesn't have any money left.

"That is the crisis we are facing every day," Garcia said. "We need more funding."

As Garcia's hands are tied, it's a similar issue for Jenkins. Unable to leave the hospital and with nowhere to go, the hospital band on her arm is starting to feel more like a shackle than a bracelet.

"I celebrated my birthday here in the hospital," Jenkins said. "I don't know who else to call. I don't know who else to talk to. That's why I contacted you guys. I gotta keep the faith. Something's got to give."

According to the Indian River County Sheriff's Office, deputies served 318 evictions in 2022 and 145 so far in 2023.