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What a Home Really Means for Families Dispossessed by Disaster

Photo: Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity

Jonathan Reckford

CEO, Habitat for Humanity

For many, a white picket fence is something you pass by in your neighborhood; a roof simply rests above your head. But for Alina, Carlos, and their two children, the roof and fence that protected the central Florida home they built with Habitat for Humanity were part of a dream come true.

Then came Hurricane Irma.

When disaster strikes

The fence and storm-hardened metal roof outlasted the 140 mph winds, but a panel of siding gave way to the plundering rains, filling their home of eight years with water. Carlos mopped what he could, but soon he and his family realized they would have to weather Irma’s wrath.

They weren’t alone. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria combined to create an unprecedented housing disaster, displacing tens of thousands of Americans across Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. In the west, thousands more homes were destroyed by raging wildfires and landslides.

When a disaster strikes, local Habitat organizations jump into action and help families make emergency repairs, just as Habitat for Humanity of Highlands County volunteers did for Alina and Carlos. “They were coming up and saying, ‘Do you remember me?’” Carlos says of the volunteers at his home. “I told them, ‘Of course. You helped us build our home.’”

Recover and rebuild

At Habitat, we know that recovery from these major disasters is measured in months and years, not days or weeks. Ten months into the recovery, our teams are still hard at work throughout the disaster-affected regions, helping low-income families get back on their feet.

For more than 40 years, Habitat for Humanity has been partnering with families seeking to make better lives by building affordable homes. Working in all 50 states in the U.S. and in more than 70 countries, Habitat has helped more than 13.2 million people around the world get a better and safer place to sleep at night.

With those homes, which they own through paying an affordable mortgage, comes hope. But that hope can be challenged when storm clouds gather, the earth shakes, or fire burns near. Too often it is those who can least afford it who face the greatest damages.

Love and hope

While the 2017 disasters destroyed many homes, they did not destroy the spirit and resilience of families like that of Alina and Carlos. 

Growing up, Carlos, who spent time in foster care, used to walk by homes with picket fences. “I never stayed anywhere for more than a year, a year and a half,” he says. “I wanted to build a home for my family, a home with a picket fence.”

The couple’s children, 12-year-old Adrianna and 10-year-old Adrian, are living that dream. With the waters gone and their home repaired, they know only the love and security of their home.

“I truly believe that our house was built out of love, by people who were here because they wanted to be here,” Alina says. “It continues to be built on love and care and a great sense of being kind.”

Jonathan Reckford, CEO, Habitat for Humanity, [email protected]

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