Houston Bennet could not wait to show people around his new home – a brand new charcoal gray mobile home provided to him free of cost through the combined efforts of several community organizations.
He made sure to have the furnishings placed just so, with comfortable couches lining the living room and a prized buck skin flanking the wall closest to the door.
As he took the podium to thank the 20 or so officials who had gathered on his lawn in the rain Wednesday morning for the house’s dedication, he invited everyone in to take a tour.
“And if anyone would like to see inside, I’d be happy to show you around,” Bennet said to those gathered.
The mobile home is Bennet’s first permanent home since Hurricane Michael destroyed the rental house where he had lived nearly four years ago.
The storm sent a tree through his former bedroom, which laid over his bed for months while he stayed in other rooms – searching desperately for somewhere else to go.
After that, he moved into a friend’s trailer, living there for several years before getting in touch with the Citizens of Gulf County Recovery Team, who would come to help him get his new mobile home.
“I’d just like to thank the Lord for this land and for this home,” Bennett said. “It’s through his glory that you all are able to do what you do.”
The Citizens of Gulf County Recovery Team, a nonprofit organization of volunteers working to improve housing conditions in Gulf County, has secured funding to place seven other mobile homes for landowners who lost their homes in Hurricane Michael or whose homes were rendered uninhabitable.
They fund these efforts through grants, which the county sometimes helps them secure, and through donations from and collaborations with other community businesses and organizations.
At the house dedication, COGCRT’s President Loretta Costin accepted a $250,000 check from the Florida-Bahama Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“At our churches across the U.S., when someone puts money in the offering plate, a part of that is to go to anytone in need,” said Pastor Robert Rhodes, a representative from the church network, “especially in times of disaster.”
These contributions are made especially significant with the cost of mobile homes and housing materials on the rise, said Joe Paul, a representative from the County’s State Housing Initiatives Partnership program.
“Right after the hurricane, we were doing mobile homes like this for $39,000. Now, this same home is $76,000,” Paul said. “So, you can see why partnerships are important… We had to come together, and we had to work as one.”
Paul went on to list other organizations that provided assistance with housing efforts in Gulf County – including the Christian Community Development Fund, the Capital Area Community Action Agency, volunteers from Auburn University, Ironwood Homes and the City and County governments in Gulf County.
But Costin said that the eight homes will not come close to filling the amount of need they see in the community.
Wounds from Hurricane Michael are still felt deeply. The storm claimed the lives of at least 74 people, and the National Center for Environmental Information estimated that Michael caused upwards of $18 billion in damage in Florida.
According to Costin, there are many more individuals in need of housing assistance.
“I think at this point we’ve talked to a little over 100 families who are in need of assistance,” she said. “And so I think it’s just about getting up every day and plugging at it – like we’ve all been doing since the storm.”
The COGCRT hopes to start construction on a new single family home for a family near Wewahitchka in September.
To seek help for yourself or someone you know, visit the organization’s website at https://www.recovergulf.org/ or call 850-270-8911.