Woman creates backyard tent community for Hurricane Michael victims

Woman creates backyard tent community for Hurricane Michael victims in Florida

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - After the tent city in a Panama City church parking lot was disbanded two months after Hurricane Michael, many believed that was the end of the tent population.

However, Shelly Summers took in many of those residents and is providing evidence that a desperate housing problem still exists in our area.

Shelly Summers is allowing 24 people who lost everything to Hurricane Michael live in her back yard.
Shelly Summers is allowing 24 people who lost everything to Hurricane Michael live in her back yard. (Source: WJHG/WECP)

“My husband and I saw on the news about tent city and being raised where we were that wasn’t right. That’s when my daughter and I went down and started bringing people home,” Summers said.

Lori Hollaway lost everything to Hurricane Michael and before she knew it, she was homeless.

"I tell [Summers] the situation that me and my husband are in and how we become homeless and everything and she said OK. She said, 'I want you and your husband, y'all stay there at Walmart. I'm gonna have a friend come to Walmart and pick y'all up and bring y'all out here," Hollaway said.

The backyard tent community houses 24 hurricane victims, free of charge, but Summers has strict rules. Residents are subject to random drug tests and must show a valid local address which she inspects to see if it has, in fact, been destroyed.

And just like any other family, every person plays their part.

"We have one that likes to help me cook. We have another one that likes to do the laundry, it just really depends on what they're comfortable with. I don't make them do anything they don't want to do," said Summers.

When asked if she's worried the tent community might be disbanded, Summers said, "No. Because I have 24/7 eyes on the place and not just anyone can walk in. My address is not disclosed publicly for that reason. There are no workers here. There are no vagrants here and when I say workers, I say out-of-town workers. These are all legitimately people that lost from the storm."

But for residents of this tent community, home is not a place - it's a feeling.

"I know that I'm wanted, I feel it every day when I get up and see Miss Shelly," Hollaway said.

“So many people tell me that I’m a rarity and I shouldn’t be. I should be a normalcy. This should be what everybody is doing,” Summers said.

She is expecting four new residents to move in this weekend.