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Hurricane Irma and capitalism set to hit low-income communities the hardest

By staff |
September 7, 2017
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Fort Lauderdale, FL- As millions of people in South Florida nervously await the unwelcome arrival of massive Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded, shelters are beginning to fill and store shelves are beginning to empty. Flocks of Floridians, from Key West to Fort Lauderdale, are gathering their belongings and loved ones and leaving town. Some are headed to shelters further north and inland, while others are hopping on plane flights to other states.

But for the thousands of homeless and poverty-stricken residents of the state, shopping sprees and evacuation are not viable options. Florida has the third largest homeless population in the country and, in moments of crisis such as this one, that is who gets hit the hardest.

Jeff Weinberger, organizer and co-founder with the October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness, is an activist and advocate for the homeless in Broward County. And while there are often emergency plans in place for those living on the streets, he says most aren’t aware of them.

“Typically, for one thing, not everyone gets the word about the plan. When I went out last year to warn people about an impending cold weather emergency, I found that most of the people I spoke with had no idea about the shelters being open, or where to go to make sure they'd be taken care of,” Weinberger said.

Those who are aware of the plans in place, are often reluctant to follow them.

“There are the folks who insist on not going to shelter,” Weinberger said. “Which is almost always owing to the fact that they've had bad experiences staying in them, been treated abusively or been ripped off, or they simply hate being cooped up in a regimented environment,” Weinberger said.

This desperation among the population’s most vulnerable is symptomatic of the U.S. capitalist system. Under this for-profit system, economic safety nets that could eradicate homelessness and extreme poverty altogether (such as food and housing subsidies, adequate public transportation services, free healthcare) are always the first to be cut out of state and national budgets.

“Just consider the whole issue with people having to seek shelter, let alone seek shelter as a deadly storm heads our way,” Weinberger said. “That in itself reflects a society with fundamentally inhumane priorities. I'd say ‘insane’ isn't too strong a word.”

Capitalism is also largely to blame for climate change, the direct cause of ever more destructive storms such as Irma. In a society where profits outweigh safety and science, companies and governments are less likely to do what is necessary to prevent the devastating effects of climate change if it means dipping into corporate revenue. Couple that with President Trump and the Republican Party’s insistence that climate change is a ‘hoax,’ and the results are catastrophic.

“Science has always told us that climate change means more intense and more frequent storms,” said Andrea Cuccaro, a South Florida climate activist with a master's degree in public administration. “The oceans are warmer in places like the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, which strengthens storms that form or pass through there into higher categories with stronger winds.”

And unfortunately for the 30% of South Floridians who live beneath the poverty line, the gross inequalities of capitalism and the effects of climate change are likely to make Hurricane Irma (and other storms like it) an absolute disaster.

“The poorest communities will always be affected the most,” Cuccaro said. “They are the communities who may be living in the least safe structures and can't afford to be mobile after a storm.”

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