Volunteers put up new house for family four years after Hurricane Michael
Lashon Turner hasn’t put up her Christmas lights for years. But this year, she’s already planning her holiday display.
“I just couldn’t bring myself to do it,” she said. “I mean where were we going to put them?”
“But I am so excited for the holidays in this new house.”
Turner looked over at her family’s new home, which was just starting to take shape on her lot in Wewahitchka.
Just a few days prior, all that stood in its place was a concrete slab. But as a team of about two dozen volunteers applied a fresh coat of gray paint to the three bedroom home’s siding, she allowed herself to get excited about what a future in her new home might hold.
The 1130 square foot house had been mostly assembled in just three days through a partnership between several nonprofit organizations and a team of local volunteers, who came together to give the Turner family a safe place to live for the first time since Hurricane Michael ravaged their old home in 2018.
“This whole process has taken about ten months,” said Kathy Gilbert, the disaster case manager with the Citizens of Gulf County Recovery Team. “It started back in February. That’s when we saw the conditions the family was living in.”
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The winds from Michael tore off a good portion of the shingles, destroyed the back porch, damaged the front porch and blew out windows of the Turner family’s former home, where they had lived since the storm.
The house had multiple points of water entry. Plastic garbage bags covered the blown-out windows, holes in the floor were covered by loose pieces of plywood, and there were holes in the walls for four years after the storm.
Turner said her family had stayed in the house during Michael — watching from the windows as the winds took out a large oak tree and landed it inched from their front door.
“We stayed through the whole thing,” said Turner’s daughter Ennesia Hughes. “She was watching the whole thing from the window,” Hughes added, gesturing to her mother.
“It was terrifying,” Turner said. “But the harder part came after.”
Turner, a mother of five, including two children currently in elementary school, said it had been difficult to navigate the processes for finding more secure housing. She had reached out to several organizations before being put in contact with Gilbert and the CGCRT, but they had not proven to be helpful.
She said her initial plan had been to fix up an additional property she had acquired when she first moved to Wewahitchka a decade ago to take care of her aging mother, who passed away in 2015. But that had proven more expensive than she could afford.
“But Ms. Kathy has been so great,” said Turner. “It’s been a long time, but it doesn’t seem like it.”
The CGCRT, a nonprofit organization working to help restore safe housing to Gulf County homeowners who lost their homes during the hurricane, is involved in several housing projects in the area, including efforts to provide mobile homes to those who lost housing and build handicap accessible features on existing homes for those in need.
This was not the first time the organization had felt a total rebuild was in order, said Gilbert, and when they came across the Turner family’s case, they knew who to call.
Doug Higgins, the board president of Square Foot Ministry, said the organization, which helps provide houses to families in need, had helped build another home for a Gulf County citizen prior to the pandemic.
“Our mission is to provide comfortable, safe and affordable housing,” he said. “We follow the Habitat for Humanity business model and provide an interest-free mortgage with low down payment for qualified homeowners.”
So when Gilbert called, he said, the organization was happy to step in and help. Materials were donated by about 20 local businesses and organizations for the build, and by late September, the old house had been demolished, the family had been moved into temporary housing, and a new concrete slab had been poured.
There’s no exact time frame in which the process of building a house with Square Foot Ministries is complete, Higgins said, but they aim for having it finished within about 30 days.
By Thursday, the organization, along with several dozen local volunteers, had completed the home’s structure and exterior siding. Gilbert said that the project should be completed some time before early November.
“You should be in here before Thanksgiving,” she told Turner. “Which is great because I know you love to cook.”