The Road Home for the Homeless After Hurricane Ian

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A man wearing a baseball cap, glasses, and a plaid shirt. He has a mustache.

John Tomlinson could have been left behind in the turmoil following Hurricane Ian. At age 84, with half of his left arm amputated due to complications from an accident decades earlier, there was only so much he could do to protect his home, a travel trailer, from the approaching Category 4 storm.

Tomlinson left before the rain began cascading down across Naples, Florida, mid-afternoon on Sept. 28, 2022. Winds gusting up to 145 miles an hour ripped the standard-size roof vents off the travel trailer allowing water to gush through the square-shaped holes. By the time Tomlinson returned, the interior of his home was submerged in knee-deep water. He had nowhere to go. Tomlinson nailed together a makeshift box from a few scrap sheets of plywood with his one functional arm, put down a plastic garbage bag and went to sleep on the floor.

He applied for FEMA disaster assistance, but his FEMA application was missing necessary documents that were somewhere amid his rain-soaked belongings. As a man of faith, he prayed.

Two weeks later, his insurance company came to inspect the storm damage. Toxic greenish-black mold had taken hold of the trailer’s interior; the insurance company hauled away the home and paid off what was left on Tomlinson’s loan. Now, his only place to live was the makeshift box.

FEMA Housing Unit Group Supervisor Gwendolyn Dixon heard of Tomlinson’s story and contacted Individual Assistance Specialist Khaoula Diadsy to make a courtesy visit.

"When I met John, I knew that this man needed me to put all my efforts in, even if it's as small as being a listener or gathering documents,” said Diadsy. “I felt right away he was going through a lot without him even sharing his story. But he carried himself with so much strength and humility it would have been easy to miss."

As Diadsy began to help Tomlinson, she came across other FEMA personnel doing the same. FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaison Elaine Brown heard Diadsy had made a courtesy visit to Tomlinson and reached out about her own efforts. She told Diadsy how she and another Voluntary Agency Liaison, Yvonne Antoine-Wilson, were trying to get Tomlinson into nearby lodging. Since his FEMA application was incomplete, Tomlinson wasn’t eligible for Transitional Sheltering Assistance. But the Voluntary Agency Liaisons were able to help, and Tomlinson soon laid down on a real bed with a mattress for the first time since Hurricane Ian.

FEMA Individual Assistance Liaison and Individuals and Housing Program Advisor Susan Lopez also stepped in to review Tomlinson’s file. After a disaster, FEMA works to ensure all eligible survivors receive the maximum assistance for which they qualify, and Tomlinson’s case was no different.

With Tomlinson’s permission, Diadsy then contacted the insurance provider to request documents needed to complete his FEMA application. She learned the insurance carrier had mailed a settlement check in excess of $10,000 which Tomlinson had never received. Tomlinson used the money to help pay for a new travel trailer. While not as big as his pre-storm home, the delivery of his trailer means Tomlinson has a permanent housing solution. His case with FEMA is now closed. 

Tomlinson could have easily been left behind in the turmoil following Hurricane Ian – but he wasn’t. Dedicated FEMA staff didn’t let that happen.

"I would say it was one of my most heartfelt experiences in FEMA,” reflects Diadsy. “A reminder why I signed up for the job in the very beginning. It was really touching and an experience I'll forever remember."

Man sits in chair in front of trailer.
Last updated February 7, 2023