Hurricane Michael refugees asked to relocate as deadline expires

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Dozens of people in Bay County are searching for a place to stay as they are told they’re no longer welcome at a Panama City tent city.

Many of those people are workers, people that were homeless before the storm, and locals still picking up the pieces after being displaced by Hurricane Michael. The parking lot of Forest Park United Methodist Church is thinning out as residents are asked to pack their tents and move on.

However, some refused to leave on Monday, and no one seems to be sure who set the Dec. 10 deadline in the first place.

“We had a lot of people that did not leave or respond to the deadline that was created by the city,” said Shawn York, the Hurricane Michael recovery director for the West Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“First of all, the church set the deadline,” Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki said.

Regardless of whoever set the deadline, the church and its Alabama West Conference are working together to get people moving with things like gas cards and finding places for people to stay.

“The majority of people that are still here are people who came seeking employment and looking for jobs after Hurricane Michael,” York said.

Brudnicki said it’s time for those people to leave.

“They can go back to where they came from,” he said. “They’re not from Panama City. They’re not from Bay County. Our goal is not to help those people. Those people need to be helped in their towns so I can help the people of Panama City.”

On Monday, the church identified and found housing for eight local households still living in Tent City.

“We’re working first to take care of the residents of Panama City and those that are homeless that wish to go into shelters,” York said.

The mayor said Tent City is unsanitary and unsafe.

“I have to keep our people safe, and we can’t have this situation in the city,” he said. “I won’t have it.” 

He said law enforcement has responded to 26 calls at Tent City within the last 30 days, some dealing with fighting, burglary, robbery and attempted sexual assault.

“If I only have eight families, citizens, here, how can I keep them safe if I have 26 calls for service in 30 days,” he said. 

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