Hundreds of SWFL students living with mold, without roofs after Irma

IMMOKALEE, Fla. Mold covering walls.

Roofs completely gone.

And for hundreds of students, this is home.

“I’m living here because I have nowhere else to go,” Greg Martin said. “I’m just holding on to the little thread that we have, but it’s basically we don’t have anywhere.”

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He and his niece, Makayla Tindell, share a common bond — both are Collier County students in homes rendered technically unlivable by Hurricane Irma.

Reality set in after Greg and his father returned to see their house after the storm. The destruction was strewn about each room — shattered picture frames and memories lying broken across the floor.

“It got emotional, and then my dad started crying,” Greg said. “I was hoping, praying, everything was going to be fine, but I guess God had another path for us to go.”

Greg goes to Immokalee High School and Makayla attends Pinecrest Elementary. Greg was living with his sister, Petrona Gaspar, while Makayla lived with her mother, Samantha Tindell, in another trailer.

Petrona moved in with an uncle after the storm, but Greg still lives in the trailer, even though it has no roof.

“Every time I come here, I’m just like, everything’s gone,” Greg said. “The worst part is just losing everything, everything that you had, everything you worked hard for, and seeing it all gone.”

Makayla spent time living in a tent after the storm and is now back living with her mom, brother and father in their mold-ridden trailer, with a tarp for a roof.

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About 1,000 students in Southwest Florida live like Greg and Makayla, whom the school district considers homeless because of the conditions of their homes.

More than 440 students are homeless, or at least technically so, because of the storm in Collier County. That number is 570 in Lee County, and it’s almost 100 in Charlotte County.

“I think first you have to think about the traumas they experienced just going through the hurricane,” said Caroline Brennan, homeless education and foster care liaison for Collier County schools.

“And then to go home and find their homes destroyed, their personal belongings are gone,” Brennan said. “Many of them did not have school supplies anymore. They didn’t have uniforms to come to school. And so that makes it really hard.”

Still, Makayla is staying positive, and she wants other kids in her shoes to do the same.

“Don’t get depressed — just keep the spirit up,” she said.

School districts in Southwest Florida are collecting backpacks, food, gas cards and other supplies to help people like Makayla and Greg. For more information, call district headquarters at the following numbers:

Collier County — 239-377-0001
Lee County — 239-334-1102
Charlotte County — 1-800-628-8938
Hendry County — 863-674-4642
Glades County — 863-946-0202