There were no hurricanes in Michele’s native Connecticut—just a lot of snow. So when the former “ski ambassador” moved down to Florida to be with her ailing aunt, surviving Hurricane Irma was a new and devastating experience. “We lost everything,” Michele recalls. “We came down from Orlando, going to where there was electricity.” The women stayed in a hotel in Fort Myers but soon ran short on money.
Michele tried staying with a couple of friends, but neither arrangement worked out. “We ended up at St. Matthew’s House and I’m very fortunate and blessed that we did,” says Michele. She admits she was terrified at the thought of staying in a homeless shelter. But St. Matthew’s House put all of her fears to rest. “The staff are wonderful,” Michele tells us. “They’re very caring. You can really talk with them or pray with them. They help you see that God has a plan for you.”
Michele, a senior citizen, never thought God’s plan for her would include being homeless. However, she credits staying at St. Matthew’s House with opening her eyes to what homelessness means. “Everybody has a reason for being here,” she explains. “We’re not all drug addicts or alcoholics. This place is for anyone who needs to start over. Things happen that change your life dramatically.
St. Matthew’s House trains you so when you leave, you can work and support yourself. They prepare each and every person here for life.” Clearly, it would take more than a hurricane to keep Michele down for long. After only a few months with St. Matthew’s House, she moved into a condo where she enjoys working on her art, reading and raising her Siamese kitten. St. Matthew’s House will always be close to her heart, and she plans to come back and volunteer. “I’m in a wheelchair,” she says, “but I can do as much as anybody if I work at it.”
It’s been more than two years, but I doubt any of us will forget the effects of Hurricane Irma. That is especially the case for many seniors in Collier County who, like Michele, were displaced by the devastating storm. Michele was fortunate enough to find her way to St. Matthew’s House, where she received practical help and loving support that got her back into a place of her own just three months after she arrived.
Many of her peers, however, didn’t know where to turn for help. They found it too difficult to negotiate the complicated process of getting assistance. Sadly, many are still experiencing homelessness. Aside from forces of nature like Irma, there are many reasons for the growing number of homeless seniors in our community. Families break down. Children move away. Spouses die, cutting monthly social security payments in half. The survivors simply don’t have enough money for rent and other living expenses, and they fall through the cracks.
Thankfully, there are forces even greater than nature and more powerful than a hurricane: hope, compassion, and generosity. With help from neighbors and friends like you, St. Matthew’s House extends God’s love to all who find themselves on the fringes of our community and brings them back into the fold.
To support the life-changing work of St. Matthew’s House, contact us via email at email@example.com, online at stmatthewshouse.org, or phone at (239) 774-0500.